How Much To Get Your Name On A College Building? A Lot

Linda E. McMahon Student Commons, Sacred Heart University (Stephen Dunn, inset: Cloe Poisson)

From less than $1 million to $25 million or more, the amount of money it takes to get your name on a building at one of Connecticut's institutions varies greatly.

Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive now running for U.S. Senate, gave Sacred Heart University in Fairfield $5 million over five years — and the Catholic university is naming its new student commons building after her.

The 46,000-square-foot building, which cost $22 million, will include a bookstore, 250-seat student dining hall, private dining room, informal lounge spaces and outside seating, and will be dedicated Friday.

McMahon first got involved with Sacred Heart when she was invited to speak about work-life balance for women. She later joined the board.

At the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the Burton Family Football Complex opened in 2006 at a cost of about $25 million. Of that cost, about $2.5 million came from a donation from Robert G. Burton, head of Burton Capital Management LLC in Greenwich, an equity firm that invests in manufacturing companies.

Burton didn't attend UConn. He played football at Murray State University, where he graduated in 1962 with a bachelor's degree in business administration — but he has given at least $7 million and is the top donor to the UConn football program.

Burton made headlines when he demanded millions of dollars back and his name taken off the sports complex in a dispute last year over the hiring of football coach Paul Pasqualoni. But he later set those differences aside and pledged continued support.

It's not surprising that connections between the donors and the schools or hospitals that receive their largesse come in many forms, and that amounts needed to secure the coveted building monikers range widely. But what may be more surprising is how far apart a building's construction or renovation can be from the marquee donation — as institutions wait for the right gifts to come along.

For instance, the most recently completed construction project at Connecticut College, the first new building in 14 years, was a 10,000-square-foot fitness center entirely funded by gifts. But it's just called the Fitness Center — no naming.

Conn College, as the New London liberal arts school is fondly called, is working on a huge addition to its science center, a $24 million project. It, too, does not have an honoree.

"We like to keep things simple here," spokeswoman Amy Martin joked. But she said, "Those two may be named in the future."

A $1 million donation from David and Lyn Silfen convinced the college to name its largest classroom after the couple, who have made many donations to Lyn Silfen's alma mater over the years. The track and field area is also named after the couple.

David Silfen also gave $12 million to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, which the couple's two children also attended. David Silfen, who has a student study center named after him at Penn, is a senior director at Goldman Sachs. The couple split their time between their homes in Manhattan, Greenwich and Southampton.

In 2008, Connecticut College renamed a dorm that had been named for the school's second president, Benjamin Marshall, for donor and alumna Ann Werner Johnson. With her husband, Tom, the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Greenpoint Financial in New York, she gave $3 million to her alma mater from 2004 to 2009.

Mitchell College, a small college in New London, spent $3.8 million building the Duquès Center, a career center that also contains tutoring and advising areas. It's named for Ric and Dawn Brill Duquès, and she received an associate's degree from Mitchell. A spokeswoman did not reveal the size of the donation, but said it was under $1 million.

Parents of alumni have been a great source of university gifts. Charles F. Dolan gave Fairfield University $25 million, prompting the university to rename not just a building, but its entire business school — dedicating the Charles F. Dolan School of Business in 2000. Dolan, founder and chairman ofCablevision Systems Corp., sent two of his six children to Fairfield.

Other Connecticut colleges have had major donors who neither attended nor had children who attended, but who became supporters of the schools because of social connections with the school's leaders, or proximity.

Henry "Hank" and Nancy Bartels of Branford both graduated from Cornell University and their children both went there, as well, and have given millions to their alma mater. But they've also donated to the University of New Haven, Quinnipiac and Yale University.

Hank Bartels was president of a Meriden manufacturer, MMRM Industries, before he retired.

The University of New Haven renovated a former psychology building, and renamed it the Bartels Student Activity Center after the Bartels donated $800,000 toward the $1.5 million project.