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This article was published 3/10/2015 (1972 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The money boggles the mind.

The University of Manitoba has already raised an exceptionally precise $215,294,636.30 by late Saturday afternoon in the most ambitious capital fundraising campaign by a public institution in Manitoba history.

And yet there’s still a long way to go to hit the $500-million target the U of M has set for itself by the time the Front and Centre campaign ends in the fall of 2017.

The campaign officially kicked off Saturday three years into the campaign, when Israel Idonije, U of M grad and retired National Football League player, unveiled to the halftime crowd at the Blue Bombers game the amount of money raised so far.

Almost half that campaign goal would go directly to some form of student aid.

Want to boggle your mind some more?

Front and Centre wants to raise pretty much the same amount of money to attract and support researchers as it aimed to collect in the entire capital campaign conducted in the late 1980s.

Front and Centre wants to raise $100 million just for financial aid for graduate students, the same dollar figure that an unidentified consultant told the university in the late 1990s was the absolute max it could hope to raise in the most recent Building on Strengths capital campaign a little more than a decade ago. That the U of M ended up collecting a record $237.5 million may give a clue why the university has never identified that consultant by name.

"It’s a big campaign with large goals," university president David Barnard said. "We’ll use the money to transform the environment for students. We’ve tried to align with the things that are important to the province."

Officials said that the Front and Centre campaign would end sometime just before Barnard’s term ends June 30, 2018.

Not so much bricks and mortar this time around, though there’s a new medical campus building to move nursing from the Fort Garry campus to the new faculty of health sciences to work beside other disciplines; there’s a facility for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and there are repairs — a lot of repairs and upgrades.

"We do have some older buildings — we have to keep labs moving ahead, we have to have the technology that modern learning is based on," Barnard said.

"We want to really engage the community, the impact it’s had and will have," said John Kearsey, the vice-president of external affairs. "The purpose of Saturday is to show the impact."

The U of M averages about $20 million a year in gifts, so the total includes about $60 million that the university would normally have expected to receive. The fundraising includes money donors have agreed to pay over a period of time.

The campaign team plans to roll out the seven- and eight-figure donors one at a time, spread out to maintain momentum and public awareness.

The campaign total increased by $65 million since Wednesday, when fundraisers were to meet with potential major donors — they were apparently quite successful, but the university isn’t naming names yet.

"Every gift (counted so far) has to be signed off by donors," Kearsey said. "We have several gifts of $1, $2, $3 million."

So far, two gifts under discussion involve naming rights.

The plan calls for the university to raise $350 million, and for the provincial government to provide $150 million in provincial grants — a number that dwarfs anything the province has ever previously spent on post-secondary education projects.

So far, the province has said nothing about committing provincial money.

University brass have met with Premier Greg Selinger and say talks are hopeful.

The provincial Conservatives say it’s hypothetical to talk about how they’d handle the university’s $150-million grant request, or what they’d do with any NDP promise of funding, should they form government this April. They’d wait to look at the province’s books.

"We know the hole is deep — we just don’t know how deep," said Tory education critic Wayne Ewasko (Lac du Bonnet). "We’ve been having positive discussions with all the post-secondary institutions. Once we’re in government, then we’ll be taking a look at it — we have to look at how bad (the province’s financial situation) is."

Campaign chairman Paul Soubry said the university undertook two years of grassroots research before starting the campaign three years ago. Typically, capital campaigns go public with two years to go.

"We’re trying to find a way to inspire people to want to contribute," Soubry said. "There’s 132,000 alumni in our database in 131 countries. We’re talking to as many people personally as we can."

Without dropping any names, Soubry said there will be some major gifts from first-time donors.

"Some people want their name on a building, some don’t want any recognition, some want to fly under the radar," he said.

Soubry isn’t buying any arguments that the goal is too ambitious.

"My first reaction was, $500 million is a big number. I view it as quite attainable — I believe it’s doable, and it’s necessary."

Hong Kong business owner Esther Suen, a 1985 grad, has donated $1 million to help economically disadvantaged students study abroad.

There’s $1 million from 1943 grad and North West Company founder Derek Riley for the Rec and Read program, mentoring indigenous young people.

The university has said it is confident it will receive at least one donation larger than the record $20 million philanthropist-businessman Marcel Desautels donated last time around to establish the Desautels faculty of music.

The Front and Centre campaign has five target areas, which reflect the university’s strategic plan and its strategic enrolment-management plan: indigenous achievement, graduate students, research, student support and facilities.

Kearsey is aware the most recent capital campaign attracted many who donated small amounts who wanted their money to support students through scholarships and bursaries. This time around, one way or another, helping students through enormous endowment funds covers at least $225 million of the goal.

Kearsey said the university asked every faculty for a wish list limited to priority areas and received a list that far exceeded $500 million. "Every one of our faculties has a story it can tell on its own," he said.

The U of M is lowest in the country in graduate-student support among the 15 universities that have medical schools, Kearsey said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca