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Westmont College gets $75-million donation

The massive gift doesn't allay fears of some neighbors who don't want to see too much growth at the Montecito Christian school.

October 28, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Officials at Westmont College in Montecito announced Friday that the school had received a $75-million gift -- one of the largest donations ever made to a liberal arts college in the U.S.

With just 1,200 students, the Christian-oriented school probably will use the bulk of the money to construct several long-planned buildings on its leafy campus, said President David K. Winter.

Winter said the donors -- "dear personal friends as well as people pretty deeply involved in the college" -- have chosen to remain anonymous.

"That's just how they've lived their lives," he said, "deflecting attention from themselves."

Tucked into a garden setting in one of the Santa Barbara area's most exclusive neighborhoods, Westmont has been a source of concern to some neighbors. Despite assurances from school officials, area residents fear that the college's plans for several major campus buildings inevitably will lead to increased enrollment, additional events on campus -- and more traffic jamming the area.

"The scope of expansion proposed by the Westmont development machine is so vast that it will change all of Montecito forever," warned neighbors June and Geoffrey Holroyd in a commentary published in March by the Santa Barbara Independent.

By easing pressure on the college's budget, the $75-million windfall could help allay fears of excessive growth, said Winter, who again vowed that the college would not exceed its present enrollment. He said the money also should reduce concerns by neighbors who wondered whether the school would be able to complete its plans for a science building, a residence hall and an auditorium, among other things.

"This will give people confidence the college is here to stay," he said.

Laura Collector, a Montecito resident who opposes the Westmont development, said Friday that she was not heartened by the gift.

"They're building a campus that's way scaled up from the program they're running now," she said, contending that Westmont's plans indicate space for a vastly expanded faculty and student body. "It's very, very worrisome to the neighborhood."

Founded in Los Angeles in 1937, Westmont moved to its 125-acre Montecito campus eight years later. Its curriculum blends the history of Christianity with the liberal arts, and it offers students numerous opportunities to work and study abroad.

Winter said the couple approached the administration with their gift proposal only a few weeks ago.

"We've sensed their desire to support Westmont in a larger way, but we weren't soliciting a gift or anything like that," he said.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks major donations to campuses, the gift appears to be the second largest to a liberal arts college that offers no graduate degrees.

It was exceeded in 1997 by a $128-million donation to DePauw University in Indiana, according to the journal.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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