ETBU alumni and friends of the university have raised more than $6 million for the construction of the university’s new Great Commission Center. The J. E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation has also awarded the university a $1.5 million grant for the new facility.

East Texas Baptist University will soon have some new construction on campus after the Marshall-based private, Christian university recently earned a $1.5 million grant from the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation to build a new facility.

ETBU was challenged last summer by the Mabee Foundation to raise $6 million towards the construction of what will be the new “Great Commission Center” on campus.

ETBU recently met that $6 million goal through alumni donations and donations from within the university and Marshall community, including the Marshall Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO). With the goal achieved, the Mabee Foundation awarded the $1.5 million grant to the university so construction can soon begin.

“Reaching the $6 million goal prior to the Mabee Foundation challenge deadline is a significant accomplishment in the history of the institution,” ETBU Vice President for Advancement Scott Bryant said. “We made our proposal to the Mabee Foundation prior to the onset of the pandemic and were unsure of moving forward when we were issued the challenge grant in July of 2020. We did not want to miss the opportunity to receive such a sizable gift from the Mabee Foundation and decided to move forward on faith. God has been at work as ETBU alumni, and friends have partnered with us to make this vision a reality. What a privilege it has been for me to visit with alumni and donors as they have shared their desire to be part of this momentous project in the life of the institution. The Great Commission Center will be a blessing to ETBU students and to members of the ETBU community for generations to come.”

The facility

ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn said construction on the new 23,500 square foot facility is set to begin in August and an expected completion date is set for spring of 2023.

“The Great Commission Center will be constructed in the open space that sits between the Rogers Spiritual Life Center and Marshall Hall (adjacent to the Ornelas Student Center),” Blackburn said. “As visitors arrive on campus and drive up the Hill on Tiger Drive, they will see the Great Commission Center to their left, facing the light on the Hill. Imagine standing in front of Marshall Hall and seeing the Great Commission Center to your left and Scarborough Hall to your right.”

School of Business

The building’s design will be inspired by Baker Library at Harvard University, Blackburn said. Baker Library houses Harvard’s own School of Business. East Texas Baptist College alumnus and Enterprise Products Group CEO Jim Teague, a 1968 grad, gave the initial lead gift to set the vision into action, Blackburn said.

The Great Commission Center will house the university’s Fred Hale School of Business, the Office of Career and Development and the Great Commission Center program which will connect students, faculty, and staff with the local communities in East Texas, cities across the United States, as well as cultures across the globe in fulfillment of the Great Commission call in scripture, Blackburn said.

“There are approximately 300 students enrolled in programs through the Fred Hale School of Business, but the new building will hold space for other academic programs and the projected enrollment growth over the next decade,” Blackburn said. “The facility features 12 faculty and staff offices for the Fred Hale School of Business, Great Commission Center program, and the Career Development Center. The multi-purpose building is designed for use by the ETBU campus and the university’s community organization partners. The facility features a large lecture hall, classrooms, conference rooms and study areas that could serve a capacity of 1,400 students throughout a typical class day. The large multi-use event hall will hold a capacity of up to 300 seats banquet-style and approximately 500 seats theater-style.”

Through the university’s Fred Hale School of Business, degree programs offered include bachelor of business administration (B.B.A.) degrees in business administration, finance and accounting, management, management and marketing, marketing, as well as bachelor of applied science (B.A.S.) degrees in business studies, health administration and leadership studies.

The facility will not just be used for educational purposes but also for spiritual growth as well, he said.

“On the south side of the new Fred Hale School of Business building, the Calling Garden featuring Max Greiner’s ‘The Great Commission Sculpture’ will inspire students to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider their vocational calling and career opportunities beyond their studies at ETBU,” Blackburn said.

Further fundraising

This most recent grant from the Mabee Foundation is not their first to ETBU, as the foundation also awarded $400,000 to the university for the renovation of the Marshall Grand for the ETBU School of Nursing.

While the $1.5 million grant from the Mabee Foundation is their largest to date, the construction cost of the Great Commission Center has increased throughout the past year due to the scarcity of supplies as a result of recent inflation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, the original $7.5 million construction cost of the Center has now increased to about $8.5 million, resulting in the university continuing its fundraising efforts.

Those wishing to donate to the Great Commission Center project may do so by visiting the university’s website at

“On behalf of East Texas Baptist University, our students and future generations of servant-spirited graduates, we share our gratitude for our partners in creating this new wellspring to the Fred Hale School of Business and the programs for business training, entrepreneurship education, career development, and missions,” Blackburn said. “The vision God gave us for the Great Commission Center is anchored to the purpose of East Texas Baptist University to faithfully fulfill our Christ-centered educational mission. For generations, supporters of the College of Marshall, East Texas Baptist College, and ETBU have patiently prayed and purposefully provided to advance God’s vision for our institution. This facility is more than bricks and mortar; it is the embodiment of our mission to teach and train civic-minded leaders for businesses, organizations, charities, and schools. I, along with the university family, am so grateful for the benevolence of the generous individuals, organizations, and foundations who have partnered with us in this vision.”

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