Students and faculty started meeting for classes Monday in Georgia Southern University’s new $33.6 million Interdisciplinary Academic Building.
University and state officials cut a ceremonial ribbon in the lobby Wednesday afternoon as some students watched from the interior balconies. Outside, the three-story, 110,000-square-foot building overlooks the Pedestrium, the landscaped walk that passes through the heart of the Statesboro campus.
“It is an impressive addition to this campus, and it represents, really, more than bricks and mortar,” said interim Georgia Southern University President Shelley C. Nickel. “It also represents our vision for student success, which if you’ve heard me talk before, that’s what we’re all about.”
The building provides “flexible learning spaces” with state-of-the-art, interactive classrooms and lab spaces for research, she said.
As the name suggests, several of the university’s colleges and departments share the building. Programs assigned there include interior design, fashion merchandising and apparel design, history, foreign languages, writing and linguistics, international studies and departments of the Waters College of Health Professions, Nickel said.
“The facility will provide opportunities for faculty collaboration across disciplines,” she said.
Laura Marsh, the Statesboro lawyer who serves on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, related the state’s investment in campus buildings to the economy.
She noted a projection that two-thirds of all U.S. jobs over the next 10 years will require at least some level of college education, while only 47 percent of Georgia residents currently meet that requirement. Of new jobs created after the 2008 recession, over 95 percent went to Americans with some amount of college, according to a 2016 report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.
“We recognized in order for you to meet the goals that we’re going to set for student success, great student retention and higher graduation rates, we also must do our best to provide Georgia Southern with the resources it needs,” Marsh said.
Charles Perry Partners Inc., or CPPI, completed the construction in partnership with Lavender & Associates, according to a university news release. The international architectural company HOK, formerly Hellmuth, Obata, Kassabaum, designed the structure, which has dramatic projections of roof structures and exterior glass but is sheathed in red brick to fit in with other buildings on campus.
The $33.6 million price included design, construction and equipment. Construction alone was budgeted at $25.2 million.
No more ‘temporary’
A project description, updated on the university system’s website in early August 2017, states that the Interdisciplinary Academic Building replaces buildings 211, 212, 238 and 239, which were intended to be temporary but had been in place since 1987, 1990, and the latter two since 1994, respectively. Those buildings together enclosed 75,852 square feet of space, so the larger permanent building can house all of their programs and have classrooms left over for use by other departments, the description states.
“What’s amazing to me is that many of these programs have been housed in temporary construction buildings that were built when I was in college in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” Marsh said, “and I’m so excited that these programs are finally receiving a space that is worthy of the importance that they have to this institution and to Southeast Georgia.”
She and Nickel praised Gov. Nathan Deal, who will leave office in January, for his support of university system construction projects over the last eight years. They also thanked area legislators, including Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, and Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, the House majority leader. All three took part in Wednesday’s ceremony.
Nickel, the University System’s executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs, has been Georgia Southern’s interim president officially since July 1. She commented Wednesday that she is, “proud to be an Eagle, even if it’s just for a little while.” The search for the next permanent president is now beginning.
But Nickel expects to be on hand for the launch of an even larger construction project on the Statesboro campus. Groundbreaking for the Center for Engineering and Research is slated for December, she told the Statesboro Herald.
The state’s capital budget for the current fiscal year includes $49.9 million to build the center, which will house labs for research as well as instruction, after $4.9 million was budged last year for its planning and design. The identified site is on a corner of Forest Drive and Akins Boulevard, currently a parking lot.
Of course, Georgia Southern now also includes the Armstrong campus in Savannah and the Liberty campus in Hinesville. Construction of the new $23.8 million building for the Waters College of Health Professions on the Armstrong campus is well underway, and Nickel said a ribbon-cutting ceremony in late December or early January is possible there.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.