NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers Athletics ​march toward having athletic facilities comparable with other Big 10 schools received a stunning boost: a record $15 million donation to support the services of 700 student​ athletes,

​.The money is being earmarked towards the Gary and Barbara Rodkin Center for Academic Success, named after the two donors of the same names, near High Point Solutions Stadium on the Busch campus in Piscataway.

“It’s fitting that the largest gift in Athletics history is focused on the academic success of our student-athletes,” said Director of Athletics Patt Hobbs. ”Gary and Barbara wanted to marry their two passions, academics and athletics.”

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The building will consolidate the academic services for the university's 700 student athletes, according to the Feb. 5 ​university ​statement. Currently, those are run out of the Hale Center, adjacent to the ​football stadium.

Artists rendering of the Gary and Barbara Rodkin Center for Academic Success. Credit: Rutgers Athletics 

University officials will also move the training facilities for the men’s and women’s soccer and lacrosse programs into the center, as well as athletics administration. The center will be ​built between Yurak Field and the stadium.

The newly​-​unveiled center goes beyond the initial proposals laid out in the plans for the lacrosse and soccer support center, which would have been constructed in the same location.

Those prior renderings called for the center to be two stories ​tall ​and feature lounges, meeting spaces, training spaces and strength and conditioning areas.

While those ​features ​will be in the newly announced center, the initial plans did not call for accommodating the academic and administrative functions.

Monday’s announcement marks the second step of the university’s “R B1G Build,” an ambitious, $100 million facelift of Rutgers’ athletic facilities.

Launched in Jan. 2016, the campaign raised just over $92 million as of Feb. 5, 2018, to fund the athletic department’s overhaul.

University officials unveiled the athletic physical master plan at the June 2015 Rutgers Board of Governors meeting. The plan mapped out what university officials envisioned the athletics facilities ​would ​ look like by 2030.

The first project, still under construction, is the RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center, adjacent to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) and Rutgers Business School​ on the Livingston campus in Piscataway.​

Artists rendering of the RWJBarnabas Health Athletic Performance Center, Credit: Rutgers Athletics 

Once completed in July 2019, the 295,000-square-foot, four​-​story sports facility and parking deck will service the wrestling and gymnastic programs and the men’s and women’s basketball teams. RWJBarnabas paid $18 million towards the center’s construction and the Rutgers sports medicine program.

"We strongly believe that the success in athletics not only instills pride in our 500,000 alumni, but across the entire state of New Jersey," Gary Rodkin said. “We really hope that this gift inspires other alumni and New Jersey residents to give what they can. Rutgers is already recognized as a great public University, and we want to help make it second to none."

Having both graduated in the 1970s from Rutgers College, the Rodkins have a lengthy track record of $5 million in donations to the university, including the Big Ten Build, Douglass Residential College, the Center for Social Justice LGBT Emergency Fund, and $2 million towards the Rutgers Honors College.

Gary Rodkin is most well known for his position as CEO of the Omaha, NE-based ConAgra Foods. A Piscataway native, Gary attended almost every football game over the course of a decade.

"Barbara and I are very pleased with the progress Bob Barchi and his excellent team have made, and where the Strategic Plan is headed," Rodkin said. "We have been very fortunate in our lives and we want to share. That's very fundamental to who we are. We much prefer to do this now, rather than later in life, so we can see and experience the impact on our students and university for many years to come."

Rutgers President Robert Barchi praised the Rodkins for their donation to the university.

"Among my highest priorities has been to improve the academic resources for all our students," Barchi said. “This gift from Gary and Barbara will further our aspiration to be recognized as one of the world's premier universities. I want to thank the Rodkins for their remarkable leadership in helping our student-athletes achieve the highest academic standards."

Editor Daniel J. Munoz,