Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield has launched a $6.5 million capital campaign as part of the school’s 150th birthday celebration with the money to be used for strengthening academics, arts and athletic programming and increasing its endowment.

MCI Headmaster Christopher Hopkins made the campaign announcement Saturday to more than 200 alumni, students, staff and friends who gathered in Parks Gymnasium during 2016 Reunion Weekend, which was expected to draw about 350 alumni and school supporters from all over the U.S. over three days.

The Founders Campaign is MCI’s first comprehensive campaign in the school’s 150-year history. Hopkins announced that an anonymous donor pledged $1 million to the campaign, which has so far raised $3.7 million. It is the first $1 million gift ever to the school, he said.

Hopkins also announced Saturday that Tom and Anne Koester of New Jersey have pledged a challenge gift of $500,000 which will match dollar for dollar the next $500,000 raised.

“We are grateful to Tom and Anne for challenging others to support the Founders Campaign,” Hopkins said. “I hope their generosity inspires everyone who believes in the promise of an even brighter future for MCI and for the students we serve.”

The $500,000 challenge grant is not part of the $3.7 million raised so far.

MCI enrolls 450 students and is the secondary school for School Administrative District 53, which includes the towns of Pittsfield, Burnham and Detroit. The school also boards about 120 students from six states and 14 countries. MCI is home to the world-renowned Bossov Ballet Theatre, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Hopkins and Norbert Young Jr., president of the MCI board of trustees, said in an interview Friday that a quiet phase of fundraising has been ongoing for several years and the public phase was being announced Saturday. Young, who graduated from MCI 50 years ago in 1966, said officials expect to match the Koesters’ $500,000 challenge grant by August 2017, which will represent the close of the Founders Campaign.

“We’re off to a good start in the public phase,” said Young, who grew up in Pittsfield and whose parents taught at MCI.

Campaign money of $3.4 million will be used for repurposing the original math and science center on the MCI campus so it will consolidate music, arts, drama and dance into one building.

Improvements to Founders Hall also will continue and will include installation of an elevator and renovation of the antique tin ceiling tile, floors and stairwells. A new corridor will be created that will run north to south and new restrooms will be built. Also, $2 million will be added to the school’s endowment, which will increase it to $6.5 million and make MCI stronger financially, help safeguard its future and enable it to be more competitive when recruiting students and staff, according to Hopkins.

An investment of $700,000 from the Founders Campaign already has resulted in enhancement to MCI’s athletic fields, a project that was completed earlier this year. As part of the project, three new multipurpose fields were created and existing fields renovated, so all outdoor field sports teams are now able to practice and play on campus for the first time. Previously, the majority of sports played at MCI were played at fields at Manson Park off campus.

“Now all of our field sports are on campus, and so for the first time, fans and opposing players and coaches and everybody are on campus,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said the culture of the school is healthier than ever before and the campus is more beautiful than ever.

“In the last eight years we have invested considerably in the school’s infrastructure,” he said.

Hopkins has known the Koester family for 20 years and said he was close to Tom Koester when Hopkins taught at a school in Pennsylvania. Hopkins was talking with him about MCI’s capital campaign and Koester offered to visit MCI with his wife, Anne, according to Hopkins. The couple did visit March 9 and 10.

“They spent 48 hours on campus,” Hopkins said. “They departed and I received a message from him that he and Anne wanted to offer a $500,000 challenge grant in order to support what he sees happening at the school and what he knows the school’s potential is moving forward.”

In kicking off the campaign Saturday, Hopkins thanked 48 alumni and school friends who contributed more than $3.7 million to the effort.

“The Maine Central Institute Board of Trustees joins me in expressing our profound gratitude to our lead donors who have contributed over $3.7 million to the campaign,” he said. “We are overjoyed to have earned their confidence and generous support as we mark the 150th year of this wonderful institution.”

Hopkins and Young, who has been on the board of trustees since 2002, the last seven years as president, spoke lovingly Friday of MCI. Young said the board of trustees has worked very hard and the support of the board has been extraordinary.

“Because of my roots through MCI, this is a very exciting weekend for me, personally,” Young said.

Hopkins, who travels around the country and speaks with alumni, said many alumni become emotional when they speak of the school.

“I would not be who I am or where I am had it not been for my time at MCI and the care and the community standards and culture that exist at the school,” Hopkins said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17