The new $60 million, 140,625-square-foot Engineering and Research Building has opened as home of Georgia Southern University’s growing manufacturing engineering program and for research involving other departments in the university’s Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing.
Administrators, faculty members, state lawmakers, industry representatives and a few students gathered for an indoor ribbon cutting ceremony Friday. The building’s “high-bay” space, nearly as long as a football field and open to a ceiling three stories up, allowed for some social distancing.
As keynote speaker, Georgia Power Company President Chris Womack observed that Georgia Southern’s engineering school, formalized as such only in 2011, has grown to be the second-largest in the state. About 4,000 of its students have graduated to serve Georgia businesses and industries, and Georgia Power has hired more than 60 of them in the last five years, he said.
“By taking the strategic step of creating the first manufacturing engineering degree offered in Georgia, Georgia Southern is acknowledging the boom in manufacturing industry that is occurring and ensuring that we’ll have the workforce to support this manufacturing growth,” Womack said.
Businesses across the state currently employ more than 46,000 engineers of all specializations, and this number is expected to grow more than 10% by 2030, he said.
Where it stands
One of Georgia Southern’s 20 campus delivery robots later rolled in with the scissors for the dignitaries to use in cutting the ribbon. A little over two years had passed since a groundbreaking ceremony at what was then a parking lot and vacant area at the corner of Akins Boulevard and Forest Drive on the Statesboro campus.
“This state-of-the-art facility is going to serve our students in hands-on, practical experiences, as well as also allow them to have applied research in collaboration with industry,” Dr. Mohammad Davoud, dean of the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Computing, said Friday.
GS President Dr. Kyle Marrero credited Davoud for spearheading the creation of six bachelor’s degree programs and six master’s degree programs in engineering since the founding of the college, including the state’s first manufacturing engineering degree.
Interviewed after the ceremony, Davoud, now in his 33rd year as a Georgia Southern faculty member, noted that when he arrived the engineering-related programs were all in the Carruth Building, measuring about 35,000 square feet. They then evolved to occupy the 80,000-square-foot Engineering Building upon its completion, and later expanded also into the Information Technology Building.
The college will not be relocating all of its programs to the new building, and the dean’s office will remain in the I.T. Building. But the manufacturing engineering program will be based in the new Engineering and Research Building, which will also be available for other engineering disciplines, such as mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, to use for research projects.
The building includes 21 instructional research labs and 25 teaching spaces. It has a modular layout, allowing spaces to be reconfigured for different research and instructional purposes. Special features include robotics and automated manufacturing labs, a “clean” lab for precision manufacturing, and a “renewable energy” roof deck for solar and wind energy and weather projects.
Room to grow
The GS manufacturing engineering program, in its fifth year and fully accredited, now has about 140 students. So it remains a relatively small part of the university’s overall engineering programs, which enroll more than 2,600 students within the 4,000-student Allen E. Paulson College. But the new building is designed to facilitate the growth of manufacturing engineering.
Speaking during the ceremony, both Marrero and Rep. Jon Burns, R-Newington, majority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, credited the late state Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, with state support for the establishment and expansion of engineering programs at Georgia Southern.
“The reason we have engineering at Georgia Southern is because of Jack Hill. That’s a plain and simple fact. …,” Burns said. “His vision and dedication certainly made Georgia Southern a better place.”
Hill, who died suddenly in April 2020, had spoken at the December 2018 groundbreaking, and his successor, Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, was there for Friday’s ribbon cutting.
Larger than planned
Between groundbreaking and completion, the building grew 5,000 square feet larger than its original 135,000-square-foot design. Marrero praised the general contractor, JE Dunn Construction, for adding this space while finding “ways to optimize a budget.”
The builders still delivered it “on time and in-budget, which to the president of a university is the best, best answer to any question,” he said.
The Atlanta-headquartered firm Stevens & Wikinson designed the building, and BDR Partners provided program management.