For the executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, last week's groundbreaking ceremony for the philanthropic organization's national headquarters in Lansdowne was not just about another new office building in Loudoun County.

Instead, Matthew J. Quinn described the event as a symbol of what he called Loudoun's growing stature in education circles.

Formed from the estate of the former Redskins owner, the $525 million foundation gives financial support to students from high school to graduate school. The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has leased office space in Leesburg for the past four years. Quinn said the group decided to build its 23,000-square-foot headquarters in the area because Loudoun is becoming increasingly important in education -- and the foundation wants in.

"Loudoun is almost the hub of the wheel," Quinn said. "And it's good to be here at the beginning. You can help the community with its forward movement, with its self-awareness of its own potential."

Quinn noted the $500 million Howard Hughes Medical Institute research campus, which is being built down the road from the foundation's new Lansdowne home, and said he thought other nonprofit groups and research-based businesses would be on their way soon, too.

The Cooke foundation's building project, on 17.5 acres, is expected to cost more than $12 million and open in fall 2006. It will house offices, conference rooms and Cooke memorabilia, including signed footballs and a Super Bowl ring.

The groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday was attended by state and community leaders, including Virginia Secretary of Education Belle S. Wheelan and Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run), who said she hoped Loudoun families would take note of the generous financial aid offered by the Cooke foundation.

"College is just so expensive now," Waters said. "Parents are going to be saying, 'Go for this.' "

The foundation targets its scholarships toward low-income students, especially those traditionally ignored in aid programs. Under one initiative, the group supports high-performing students who have been attending community colleges but want to transfer to four-year institutions. The grants, as much as $30,000 a year for each student, are by far the most generous of their kind in the nation.

So, too, are scholarships of as much as $50,000 a year for students pursuing graduate school. The foundation also gives money to academically promising eighth-graders, supporting them through high school with counseling, enrichment lessons and sometimes even private school tuition. Foundation officials predict that by 2006, they will be supporting 550 students.

Virginia Secretary of Education Belle S. Wheelan, from left, county Supervisor Lori L. Waters and Matthew J. Quinn of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation prepare for the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for the foundation's headquarters.