Simmons College receives $200,000 donation to help with tuition assistance

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Plans to build an athletic center and dormitory for historic Simmons College of Kentucky is causing some confusion.

Simmons plans to build at the corner of 15th Street and Garland Avenue in the California neighborhood. School officials say the expansion will produce growth and millions of dollars in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

But while sharing the vision with residents, there was some confusion and misinformation that some say need to be explained.

"My concern was the street being blocked off down at the corner of 15th," said Erika McMurry, a longtime resident of the California neighborhood who recently took her concerns to a meeting with Simmons officials.

McMurry has a special needs child and says concerns she had about closing Garland Avenue to bus access were answered at the meeting earlier this month. That meeting was held at the California Community Center.

"It's a relief that they'll be able to have access and be able to pick her up," she said.

Simmons is building the athletic center and dorms as part of the school's ongoing effort to expand and attract more students. Right now, enrollment for next year is already at about 300 students, according to an administrator.

Meanwhile, the street closure was just one of the concerns from residents at a meeting earlier this month.

Video from the meeting shows one resident lashing out at Simmons President Dr. Kevin Cosby over a proposed methane plant that eventually fell through. Cosby quickly explained his position on the former project.

"You just said you don't trust me," Cosby said. "You are misdirecting, again, your anger at me."

The exchange didn't last long, and school administrators say the woman in the video eventually apologized.

In the video, you can hear the woman say, "I'm glad you cleared that up."

"We as the college wanted to inform the community about potential plans we have for expanding our campus," said Dr. Frank Smith Jr. Executive Vice President for Simmons College of Kentucky.

Smith said the expansion will be an economic boon for west Louisville and the California neighborhood.

"Because as students come, they will bring with them resources," he said. "It helps us to generate jobs. It helps us to be able to help serve the community more as a college."

Smith said Simmons has grown tremendously in recent years and is an asset to the community.

"We hope that the community would see Simmons as a newly established HBCU in this city doing what other HBCUs do around the country, and that is they uplift their community," he said.

The University of Georgia's Terry College of Business recently published a report titled: HBCUs Make America Strong. The report focuses on The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and highlights both Kentucky State University and Simmons College of Kentucky. The schools are credited with economic impacts in the millions and generating a lot of jobs.

"Our student population is growing," Smith said. "With just our band program, we are expecting 60 new students this fall. They are coming from around the country. We are trying to start now, develop a strategy that we can begin housing our students more within a community of our own college."

Alante Gulley, who just completed his sophomore year, is a member of the Simmons College Marching Band. Gulley is from Detroit but came to Simmons because he was given a scholarship and wanted to help rebuild the marching band. 

Gulley said the struggle was real and so are his dreams for the new athletic center.

"I am dreaming of actually playing on that field before I graduate from Simmons," he said.

Dr. Mark Lynn, a trustee at Simmons, believes the athletic center will do a lot for West Louisville.

"Common sense tells you that if you provide more options, more business and more retail and more of everything that needs to come to that part of our city, the better off that city will be," he said.

Lynn has also put his money where his mouth is by donating $200,000 to Simmons. The money was designated to be used for growth and to help students who need extra money to finish school.

"For somebody to have to lay out for $100 here or $200 there is sad," he said.

Lynn hopes others will follow his lead and help Simmons build the athletic center.

"What most people want in life is an opportunity to succeed, and that's what this is giving them," he said.

Lynn said the examples are on display across the country.

"You look at Duke University, look at any big name university: Texas, Ohio State, what's the first thing most people think of? Basketball, baseball, football ... whatever their sports teams are," he said. Why? That is the open door, the front porch to a lot of universities. It is no different for Simmons College. If they can have that, it is another opportunity to grow."

Administrators also said attracting University of Louisville and NBA legends Jerry Eaves and Butch Beard to help reestablish Simmons' basketball program is another win. The addition of Eaves and Beard not only helps attract students, according to school officials, but also provides mentors.

Simmons plans to break ground on the new athletic center later this year.

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