OXFORD – The college board’s non-renewal of Dan Jones as Ole Miss chancellor and the prolonged discussion of his future have not hurt athletics fundraising or on-going projects on campus.
Instead, relationships between the school and its private contributors remain strong, athletics director Ross Bjork said this week.
The board governing Mississippi’s institutions of higher learning announced its firing of Jones on March 20.
The days that followed saw rallies in support of Jones, continued discussion between Jones and the board and general uncertainty for the future of the university’s top position.
During that time Bjork and other athletics staff members worked to reassure donors and continue what he describes as a period of momentum.
The school has reached the $132 million mark in a $150 fund-raising campaign that launched initially in the summer of 2011 before Bjork was hired the following spring.
“We’ve been engaged with our donors and telling theme, one, that we love chancellor Jones,” Bjork said. “We respect his leadership. He’s been terrific for athletics, and we’re going to miss him. Now that the decision is final it’s time to move ahead. We really believe there has not been a more critical time to continue supporting Ole Miss athletics but also to give more if you can do that.”
Funding is in place for the new basketball arena and football stadium projects that are well under way.
Bjork is optimistic the school can reach its $150 million goal by the end of the calendar year.
Construction remains on schedule for the basketball teams to move into “The Pavilion at Ole Miss” in January of 2016. They will play non-conference games in Tad Smith Coliseum and move into the new arena for the start of SEC play.
Renovations to club level seating and suites on Vaught-Hemingway Stadium’s west side and south end zone are expected to be complete in August.
One change there is a field-level club lounge area in the south end zone, really the crown jewel of the project, will not be ready.
Costs exceeded budget by a wide margin, Bjork said. The lounge work was re-bid and brought back within budget.
“The only thing we’ll be missing for this year is the club lounge. We’ll give those people relief on their donations. They’ll buy their season ticket, they’ll have their seat in place. They won’t have that amenity of the club lounge. We’ve managed that, and that will be ready for the next season,” Bjork said.
New concession areas and restrooms on the main concourse will be ready in August.
Ole Miss opens the 2015 football season at home on Sept. 5 against Tennessee-Martin.
Work will begin on bowling in the north end zone after the Nov. 21 game against LSU, the final home game.
“Now is a critical time to get on board. We’ve got to continue this momentum,” Bjork said. “We’re $4 million ahead of cash in the door as of today than we were last year. People are giving, they’re responding. There’s some really good momentum right now.”