By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Homecoming at Fort Hays State University always has been a special time of year for Edward Hammond.

Hammond's 28th homecoming weekend next month will be one for the ages.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved at its September meeting last week to name FHSU's new academic building Hammond Hall, in honor of the longest-serving president in the university's 112-year history.

The Center for Networked Learning officially will be dedicated at the 2014 homecoming activities Oct. 11.

Hammond retired from the presidency during the summer after 27 years at the helm, and it will be the second time in six months he will have a building named after him.

In May, he was honored in China when Sias International University in Zhengzhou named a building Hammond Hall. Sias is one of the universities with which FHSU has primary partnerships Hammond helped orchestrate.

"That is very unusual," Regents chairman Kenny Wilk said of having one's name placed on two buildings in such a short time.

"But Ed Hammond is unusual -- in a very positive way," Wilk began, while clicking off a list of Hammond's accomplishments.

"Let's start with enrollment; he bucked the trend," Wilk said. "A lot of institutions have struggled mightily the past several years, and enrollment just keeps growing at Fort Hays State. That institution is in better financial shape than it's been in decades."

Mirta Martin, who succeeded Hammond as president, took office July 1. The $10 million, 36,000 square-foot building was completed later that month.

One of the first things on her agenda was considering names for the building, the first new academic building at FHSU in nearly 20 years. The last one was Tomanek Hall, completed in 1995 and named after former President Gerald Tomanek, who Hammond succeeded in 1987.

"Naming a building after someone is really special," Martin said. "It's very special in this case because it's an important tribute to a man who has served this institution so well for nearly three decades."

"What a tremendous honor," said Hammond, who remained on at FHSU as a consultant after stepping aside from the presidency and drives by Hammond Hall every day on his way to work.

"I'm extremely surprised, and extremely proud," added Hammond, recognizing others who have been instrumental in FHSU's success.

"There are hundreds of people who have made this university what it has become in the past 27 years," he said. "I am honored to have been a part of it all."

The feeling is mutual for those who have worked with Hammond through the years.

"First and foremost, he is an outstanding leader who chose to dedicate his skills and talents to higher education," Wilk said. "For that, Fort Hays State and the state of Kansas will benefit for many years to come."

A lot of things fell into place for naming the new building after Hammond.

A building cannot be named after someone currently working at an institution, and Hammond had retired by the time the facility was completed. Hammond had chosen the site for the new building, which stretches across the original Big Creek stream channel. And when Hammond first came to Fort Hays, he immediately proposed to computerize every classroom, earning him the nickname "Electric Ed."

That goal of computerizing the entire campus was accomplished within a few years of his arrival on campus.

Martin already has heard several stories of Hammond's commitment to getting things accomplished.

"When he puts his mind to something, he's gotten it done," said Wilk, who first met Hammond 20-some years ago when Wilk was a state representative for the 42nd District out of Basehor. "That's what leaders do."

"It couldn't be more fitting that a state-of-the-art technology building be named after the man who said he was going to electrify the campus," Martin said. "I can't imagine anyone more worthy."

Wilk agreed.

"That building will be a legacy building for Fort Hays State, it involves so many things," he said of the CFNL, which will house the Virtual College, Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning Technology, the Department of Informatics and Tiger Media Network.

FHSU's new Department of Computer Science and Information Systems Engineering program -- formed by Hammond's suggestion to reorganize two different departments into one -- also will be run out of the building.

"What better way," Wilk said, "to honor a legacy building than with a legacy president."