A $6 million pledge from Raymond Perelman is breathing new life into plans for a new Center for Jewish Life at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Drexel initiated the project in 2011 under the direction of its president, John Fry, but until this week’s announcement only a small portion of the funds had been raised, the Jewish Exponent reported.
“It was critical to making the project a ‘go’ right now,” said Ken Goldman, senior associate vice president in Drexel’s office of institutional advancement. “We were having good luck in fundraising for it, but this one just propelled us very close to our goal and really made it a fait accompli, if you will, so we could just move right ahead right now and start the construction process.”
The costs of the proposed 14,000-square foot building, which will include a kosher cafe and kitchen, a chapel, a dining hall, a student lounge and meeting space, have risen from an initial estimate of $7 million to more than $8 million. Including previous funding, the Perelman donation brings the total fundraising to $7.5 million. Goldman said the building is scheduled for completion in 2016.
It is the second major contribution that Perelman, a steel magnate and Philadelphia-based philanthropist, has made to Drexel in the past two years. In 2012, he gave $5 million to help create the Raymond G. Perelman Plaza, which covers a large swath of open space and is slated to be dedicated this fall.
Hillel will be the main Jewish group running activities in the new center, though overall programming will be overseen by David Ruth, the school’s dean of students, according to Goldman. But he added that while the center will serve as a home for Hillel, all Jewish groups will be encouraged to utilize the building’s facilities.
Drexel’s Jewish student body is estimated at 950 to 1,000 students, making up approximately 8 percent of all undergraduate residential students at the university, according to Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, the executive director of Drexel Hillel.
The school, along with the University of Pennsylvania, is located in the University City section of western Philadelphia.
(Read more on this story in the Jewish Exponent.)