WATERVILLE — Colby College officials on Friday night launched a $750 million fundraising campaign, announcing they already have raised more than $380 million toward that goal in what is the largest fundraising campaign ever undertaken by a liberal arts college.

More than 800 Colby trustees, alumni, donors, administrators, faculty, students, Waterville city officials and others turned out at the Waterville Opera House for the announcement, which officially led the fundraising campaign into its public phase after just a year of a private leadership phase.

The campaign will enable Colby to introduce transformational initiatives, build on already strong academic programs, improve access to a Colby education for deserving students from around the globe, provide new facilities that support a multidisciplinary approach to learning and connect the college to the community beyond its campus, according to college officials. Construction of a new performing arts and innovation center also will be built as part of the effort.

Campaign funds will enable Colby to continue to redefine the liberal arts, offering distinctive programs to connect students to a rapidly changing world and prepare them to solve the most vexing issues of our time, Colby officials said.

The campaign theme, “Dare Northward,” reflects the bold and unprecedented nature of the initiatives and priorities it will support, they said.

Eric S. Rosengren, chairman of the Colby board of trustees and a 1979 Colby graduate, said Dare Northward refers not just to the current upward momentum of the college but also to its remarkable history, starting with its founders who sailed up the Kennebec River in a sloop aptly called The Hero, to charter the school in 1813.

“In 1877, Colby admitted women, more than 100 years before many of our peer institutions,” Rosengren said.

Rosengren said Waterville residents raised $107,000 to buy land on Mayflower Hill in 1930 for the college, as the survival of Colby was in question, financial institutions were failing and unemployment was rising.

It was a daring move, according to Rosengren. Just as the country fell into the Great Depression, Colby’s leaders were willing to take a significant risk to secure the future of the college.

Colby is working with civic, philanthropic and art leaders to help revitalize downtown Waterville.

Colby invested $5 million to renovate the former Hains building, a historic bank building on Main Street, and a $25-million mixed-use development that will open in the fall of 2018 and house 200 Colby students and faculty and staff members working in civic engagement. Colby also plans to build a hotel and restaurant next year on Main Street that would serve the Waterville community and visitors. Colby’s total investment in Waterville is expected to exceed $45 million, with significant additional resources being committed by private investors, according to college officials.

Colby officials Friday night announced two new major commitments to the campaign, including a gift from Colby trustee and campaign co-chairman Bill Alfond, a 1972 Colby graduate, and his wife, Joan, to name the residential and mixed-use complex that Colby is building downtown at 150 Main St.

Colby President David Greene said no family has shown a greater commitment than the Alfond family, and he announced that the mixed-use residential complex Colby is building on Main Street downtown will be named for Bill and Joan Alfond. The Alfonds and their family have shown incredible support of the partnership between the city and Colby, Greene said.

“This building is the bridge that reconnects Colby and Waterville,” he said.

Bill Alfond, who received a standing ovation as he arrived on stage, said he and Greene share a vision of building community, and a courageous Colby board gave authority and the budget for Greene to go ahead with that vision.

Alfond said he grew up in Waterville, spent part of his professional career here and comes back because it is home.

“Colby’s investment in downtown demonstrates a true commitment in shortening the distance between Mayflower Hill and Waterville,” Alfond said. “Soon there’ll be no gap.”

Greene announced a naming gift from trustee Michael Gordon, a 1966 Colby graduate, for the new Colby center for arts and innovation that will provide performing arts venues that include a concert hall, theater, and dance studios, which will serve as a creative laboratory for students and faculty members across disciplines. The announcement, and Gordon, received a standing ovation.

More than 10,000 donors have contributed to the campaign so far, and Colby has received 32 contributions of $1 million or more, according to a news release the college issued in conjunction with Friday’s event.

Campaign co-chairman Robert E. Diamond, a 1973 Colby graduate and former chairman of the board of trustees, said that when Colby President David Greene was inaugurated three years ago, Greene said, “This is Colby’s moment. This is Colby’s time.”

“Today, as we publicly launch this campaign already well on our way toward our audacious goal, we can see how right he was,” said Diamond, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby in 2008 and is the parent of a 2012 Colby graduate. “Colby is truly an extraordinary institution, and now, with the support of our alumni and friends, we will be able to take this great college to the next level, to the very top tier.”

Major gifts to the campaign include more than $100 million to establish the Lunder Institute for American Art, which was launched this fall with its first visiting artist, Theaster Gates, according to the Colby release. The campaign commitment from Overseer Peter Lunder, a 1956 Colby graduate who received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1998, and his wife, Life Trustee Paula Crane Lunder, who also received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1998, included nearly 1,150 new works by artists including Maya Lin, Joan Mitchell, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. The Lunder commitment established Colby as the only liberal arts college with both an innovative art museum dedicated to cross-disciplinary study and a global research center for American art.

The Lunders stepped onto the Opera House stage Friday night to a raucous standing ovation.

“Welcome, everybody,” Peter Lunder said. “Why Colby? We love Colby.”

He said that for 65 years, he and his wife have been involved in Colby and five great Colby presidents, including Greene.

“We’re happy and we’ll continue to support Colby as long as we’re breathing,” he said, “and after that, we hope our family does the same. Colby has a superstar president that operates on 12 cylinders — eight isn’t enough — and to all those who have supported David and his dreams, we applaud you.”

Paula Lunder said she attended meetings at Colby all day and will continue to do so Saturday, and the meetings are all about the students.

“We believe in you,” she said. “You’re the future for all of us, and we wish you the best of luck.”

A transformative gift, $25 million for the new DavisConnects program, set Colby on the path to make possible a global experience, internship and research opportunity to every student, according to Greene. Funded by the Davis family and a trustee of its charitable foundation, Andrew Davis, a 1985 Colby graduate who also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2015, the program guarantees a global experience for every student, regardless of his or her financial background. DavisConnects turns the traditional career center model on its head and helps Colby students connect their education to meaningful experiences that complement their studies, according to the release. Greene’s introduction Friday night of the Gordon family received a standing ovation.

Colby also has raised more than $100 million toward an all-new 350,000-square-foot athletic complex, now underway, and a 72-acre outdoor competition center that opened this fall. The new facilities are designed to support Colby’s athletes fully in their pursuit of comprehensive competitive excellence, enhance the college’s commitment to healthy and active lifestyles, and build on its commitment to Waterville and the regional community by creating new opportunities for economic impact, the Colby release says.

The complex, scheduled to open in 2020, will be among the best Division III facilities in the nation and include an indoor competition center with a 200-meter track, the state’s only Olympic-sized pool, and a multi-level, 13,500-square-foot fitness center, connected to new spaces for yoga and other fitness classes.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, City Manager Michael Roy and city councilors shared the stage Friday night with Colby officials, to another standing ovation.

Students, faculty, and college leaders shared stories about values supported by the campaign. Greene returned to the stage at the end of the event to reveal his own commitment to the campaign — the endowment of a financial aid fund in the name of his parents, Richard and Dolores Greene, who he said instilled in him the passion for education that sustains him today and inspires him to make a great education possible to talented students from all backgrounds.

Just before brief closing remarks by Student Government Co-Presidents Elizabeth Paulino and Marques Houston, both of whom are members of the class of 2018, Greene told a story about Samuel Osborne, who worked as a custodian at Colby for 37 years in the late 19th century.

Born into slavery, Osborne traveled from Virginia to Waterville in 1865 and became a beloved member of the community, according to Greene. Osborne’s daughter, Marion Osborne, was the first African-American woman to graduate from Colby, in 1900 — long before most of the country’s best institutions granted admission to women, Greene said.

Underscoring the values of Dare Northward, Greene announced that Colby is renaming the President’s House on campus. It will now be known as the Osborne House, honoring the remarkable Osborne family and Colby’s long history of commitment to inclusivity and to the community, according to Greene.

Several large white tents and sparkling lights Friday night illuminated Castonguay Square next to City Hall, where hundreds of attendees dined prior to the 6 p.m. Opera House event, socialized and listened to live music.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17