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Dr. E: Raising money requires a different mindset

As a pediatrician, Dr. Charles Eldridge has spent most of his life helping to keep youngsters healthy. But these days the semi-retired pediatrician is helping youngsters in a different way. He’s busy leading the Andalusia Educational Building Authority and its effort to raise private funds for major renovation projects at Andalusia High School. To date, the group has contributions and pledges for more than $800,000.

“Pretty much, everyone has been receptive,” Dr. E. said. “Of the people we’ve talked to, two or three said no, they’d never be interested. But most have been receptive.

“Every major donor has been someone with ties to the school who has expressed love of the school and the role it played in their lives,” he said.

The total project, expected to top $8 million, is a major renovation of both the AHS auditorium and football field.

“More people are truly excited about the renovation of the auditorium than any other thing that we’ve talked to them about,” Eldridge said. “Of the people we’ve called on, those who’ve designated how their contributions are to be made, significant more wanted to give to the auditorium.”

That is partially because veterans of the programs that use the auditorium – theatre arts, chorus, former beauty contestants – all seem more ready to give money, he said.

On the flip side, many of the commercial donors who have pledged funds see the renovations to the stadium as a potential sales tool with which to promote the community.

“They think of it as a chamber-of-commerce sort of tool,” he said.

The renovated stadium will feature a plaza centered with a bronze statue of the school’s mascot, the Bulldog. It will have a new pressbox, reserved seating, and concession stands. The field will be moved closer to the stands, and there’s lots of whispering about the possibility of a jumbotron.

But it’s not just about football.

“The part of the project that nobody ever talks about is that the stadium will have new dressing rooms for soccer, girls softball, and girls softball batting cages,” he said. “This project is more than just football and choir. Ted Watson says – and he’s probably right – that these projects will affect 85 percent of the student population at the high school.”

When Dr. E. thinks back over his involvement with the building authority, he remembers the day Rex Jones first described the projects to him.

“Rex Jones dreamed big,” he said. “When he first told me, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ I just grinned to myself. I thought it would never happen.

“But he truly believed in this project,” Eldridge said. “His death was quite a tragedy.”

Jones’ untimely death in 2015 gave Eldridge a larger role in the public education building authority’s work. He’s been busy every since.

Eldridge said he’s been pleasantly surprised at the positive response of the community, but still tries to adopt a different mindset when he sets about this work each week.

“You have to get in touch with your inner used car salesman,” he joked Thursday afternoon. “You’re not in your doctor mode when soliciting funds for a big project.”

I beg to differ with Dr. E.

The opportunity to participate in the programs made possible by these facilities might be the best medicine he ever dispensed.

 

 

Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.