By Paul Tennant
NORTH ANDOVER — A $2 million gift, especially one that's unrestricted, would please any institution of higher learning.
Merrimack College has just received one of the largest gifts in its 64-year history. Richard Gallant, an entrepreneur who heads the Middlesex Islanders LLC hockey program, and his wife Susanna gave $2 million to support Merrimack's Agenda for Distinction.
"The timing was right," Gallant said. He noted that Merrimack plans to expand its athletic facilities and build a second rink, which his organization would use. The college and Middlesex Islanders have a long-term agreement that allows the organization to use Merrimack as its home ice.
He also praised Merrimack College President Christopher Hopey's vision for the school, which includes hiring more faculty, a new liberal arts core curriculum, expanded graduate education, more science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, and enlargement of the Volpe Sports Complex.
Hopey said the college will soon offer master's degrees in management and engineering.
Merrimack already has a Division 1 hockey team. Hopey, who has led Merrimack since July 2010, said he wants to move the college's other sports, including basketball and football, into Division 1 as well.
Asked if local fans can expect to see the Warriors competing for March Madness honors, he said, "It would be wonderful."
The college saw a 50 percent increase in applications this year, he said. Merrimack now has 2,100 students and that number is expected to climb to 2,300 by next year, he said.
Eventually, the college expects to enroll 3,000 students, he said.
The Middlesex Islanders is a development hockey program with more than 750 players competing in all five premier New England hockey leagues: Eastern Junior, Empire and ESHL junior leagues, Eastern Hockey Federation and the New England Women's Hockey League.
The players range in age from 4 to 20, Gallant said.
"We are delighted to strengthen our partnership with Richard and thank him and his wife for their extraordinary generosity," Hopey said. "Richard's endorsement of the college's vision is a testament to our shared values."
"Susanna and I are delighted to be a part of Merrimack College's strategic plan and we share its vision of providing a platform to its students so that their development will enable them to be leaders in their professions and the communities in which they reside in the future," said Gallant, who serves on the President's Advisory Board. "I think we all share in the vision that Merrimack College will remain a place which upholds the utmost traditions and values of education, leadership and community service."
"This is a very exciting time for Merrimack athletics," college athletics director Glenn Hofmann said.
Asked how the college will use Gallant's gift, Hopey said the trustees will decide that in the next few months.
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