State officials, including Gov. Nathan Deal, joined Georgia Southern University leaders and some industry representatives Wednesday in breaking ground for the university’s new $50 million-plus Engineering and Research Building.
The site is currently a parking lot on the corner of Forest Drive and Akins Boulevard, one of the main entrances to the Statesboro campus. The three-story building has a $49.9 million construction budget after a previous planning allocation of $4.9 million. Georgia Southern interim President Shelley C. Nickel mentioned a fuller price tag, including equipment, in her remarks.
“This $60 million, 135,000-square-foot building will feature some of the most cutting-edge technology we’ve ever offered to our students,” she said. “We will have robotics and automated manufacturing labs, a nano materials manufacturing lab, metal and nonmetal 3-D manufacturing spaces and so much more.”
The facility, slated to be finished in late 2020, will be used by programs of the university’s Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing. Both the college and Paulson Stadium are named for the late aircraft designer who founded Gulfstream Aerospace and became a major Georgia Southern supporter.
Dan Nale, Ph.D., Gulfstream Aerospace’s senior vice president for programs and engineering, spoke during the ceremony, and at least one other Gulfstream vice president attended. Several new earthmoving machines manufactured by JCB, whose North American headquarters is near Savannah, were parked around the site. Like Gulfstream, JCB maintains relationships with Georgia Southern’s engineering programs.
“The Engineering and Research Building also allows greater opportunities for Georgia Southern to collaborate with area companies on groundbreaking research,” Nickel said. “We expect the result of the work here will strengthen existing companies in the area, help attract new industry and add to the reputation of a state that is ready, willing and able to be business-friendly.”
Georgia Southern’s manufacturing engineering program, launched three and a half years ago, will have the largest presence in the building and be headquartered there, according to its chairman and the college dean . Portions of the mechanical engineering, civil engineering and electrical engineering programs will also move into the building.
The governor took special notice of manufacturing engineering in his remarks.
“This manufacturing engineering program has been hugely successful, and part of the reason is, there is not a whole lot of competition,” Deal said. “I am told that there is no other institution that teaches in this arena within 500 miles, and that there are only about 20 such schools in the entire United States, and it is certainly a growth area, as we see manufacturing coming back to the United States.”
After starting classes in fall 2015, the GS manufacturing engineering program has grown to more than 100 students, departmental Chair Daniel Cox, Ph.D., said in a brief interview. Its first seniors will graduate in spring 2019. It remains a relatively small but growing part of the 4,200-student College of Engineering and Computing.
The college’s dean, Mohammad S. Davoud, Ph.D., said the new building will be unlike anything the university and its engineering programs have had before. He is now in his 31st year as a Georgia Southern faculty member.
“There is adequate open space for whatever the research of the future is to be housed in here, because the building is designed with flexibility such that it can serve us now and 40 years from now,” Davoud said. “We are not looking at this building as a five-year thing. This is going to be here forever.”
The plans include a high-bay space, nearly the length of a football field, for large projects, in addition to smaller configurable spaces.
The Stevenson & Wilkinson firm worked with the university to design the building. JE Dunn Construction is contracted to build it, and the program management firm is BDR Partners. The structure reportedly will contain 21 instructional research labs and 25 “academic learning spaces.”
A roof deck will serve as a lab for solar and wind energy and weather.
Introducing Deal, state Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, praised the outgoing governor’s work in judicial reform, which slowed the growth of the state’s prison system and expanded special accountability courts dealing with mental health, substance abuse and other issues.
But Hill added, “The most lasting effect on Georgia that I believe Governor Deal will be known for is for promoting our state as the best place in America to do business and then producing on that by creating jobs.”
After Hill cited a lower figure, Deal updated it to report that the number of private-sector jobs created during his eight years in office is “rapidly approaching” 800,000.
Construction funding to Georgia Southern during Deal’s tenure as governor amounts to “well over $150 million,” Hill noted.
Deal observed that the area has been in a strong position for legislative support of its university and colleges with Hill as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, as majority leader in the House. Burns and Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, also took part in the ceremony.
Ogeechee Technical College, Georgia Southern, the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners, Statesboro’s city government, the Development Authority of Bulloch County and the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce then hosted an appreciation reception for the governor and his wife, Sandra Deal, at Ogeechee Tech’s Natural Resources Building.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.