YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Kirk Kerkorian, a U.S. billionaire of Armenian descent, will provide $12 million for building and refurbishing more schools in Armenia, a Yerevan-based representative of his Lincy Foundation said on Wednesday.
The Nevada-based charity has already spent $22 million on financing the first phase of a school infrastructure project launched by it in 2007. Ten public schools in Yerevan and other parts of the country were reconstructed or built from scratch by the end of last year.
According to Hrayr Sargsian, the head of the project implementation unit in Yerevan, the fresh Lincy funding will be channeled into six schools in the northern Shirak and Lori regions.
“We started the works one month ago and, naturally, will not be able to finish them in time for the start of the new academic year [in September,]” Sargsian told a news conference. “According to the construction schedule, they will take between 12 and 16 months.”
Sargsian said Lincy had planned to set aside nearly twice as much for the second phase of the scheme but eventually cut the sum because of the global economic crisis. But he said the charity may still increase it later on.
The Lincy executive estimated that about half of Armenia’s 1,400 or so secondary schools are in need of capital repairs. Some of them are being renovated by the Armenian government.
Kerkorian, 93, is Armenia’s largest Diaspora benefactor, having donated, through the Lincy Foundation, at least $240 million since its independence. The bulk of the money has been allocated and spent since 2001 on various infrastructure projects.
Those included the repair of 420 kilometers of major highways and the construction of 3,700 new apartments in Shirak and Lori. The two regions were devastated by a catastrophic earthquake that hit Armenia in 1988.
Kerkorian, who ranked 41st on the “Forbes” magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest individuals before the global recession, was given Armenia’s highest state award, the title of “national hero,” during a rare visit to Yerevan in 2004. Then President Robert Kocharian cited the reclusive tycoon’s “exceptional services” to the country of his ancestors.