Athletes at the University of Montana got a big boost Friday when the Washington family announced a $7 million gift to the Department of Athletics to build a Champions Center outside the stadium bearing their name.

Kyle and Kevin Washington, sons of Dennis and Phyllis Washington, announced the gift on behalf of the Washington Foundation. The money will help pay for half of the university’s planned $14 million Washington-Grizzly Champions Center.

The 46,000-square-foot facility is planned for the stadium’s southwest corner. It will include new football locker rooms and a two-level weight room open to each of the university’s 15 athletic teams.

“Something new was well beyond needed,” said Kyle Washington, a 1996 UM alumni. “A school with pride like Montana needs to have the facilities that help its student-athletes be at a championship level in everything they do, and that was missing.”

Already under construction is a new student-athlete academic center on the west face of the Adams Center. That project, estimated at $2.5 million, also fills a niche the athletic program has been looking at for years.

A new $1 million women’s softball field is also under construction on the South Campus.

“We’ve talked for years about the facilities our students use, and improving those was certainly a priority,” said UM athletic director Kent Haslam. “I try to provide the tools so our coaches can get the best recruits they can. For us to build something new and provide this, it’s really exciting.”

When the Champions Center is finished, the football locker rooms will expand from 2,400 square feet to 7,000 square feet.

The new weight room will consolidate the school's three separate weight rooms into one facility. It will also double the size of the weight room from 7,500 square feet to more than 17,000.

The school said the new facility will allow multiple teams to train at one time.

“The Grizzlies have a strong tradition of excellence, and this facility is an investment that sends a clear message to the student-athletes who give so much to the university,” said Kevin Washington.

The project must win approval from the state Board of Regents. Once approval is granted, work is expected to move forward quickly, though no timeline has been given.

Haslam said the rendering will likely undergo slight transformations as it moves from design to construction. The Champions Center won’t limit future stadium expansions, but instead was designed with expansion in mind.

“When we started the master plan, we looked at the stadium expanding to as big as it could get, and we considered those pieces to get this facility to fit,” he said. “We want to break ground as quickly as possible.”

The Washingtons and their foundation continue to stand among UM's most generous benefactors, giving the university more than $150 million since 1988.

The foundation has supported the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, and it provided more than $2 million to support EdReady, a college prep curriculum.

“The Washington family’s generosity to the University of Montana is truly remarkable,” said UM President Royce Engstrom. “Their latest investment will benefit thousands of student-athletes who will use the new facility for decades to come.”

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