Piercing dirt with gold-painted shovels, Governor Nathan Deal, Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel and a host of local leaders signaled the beginning of a large-scale effort Tuesday to construct the University’s newest state-of-the-art facility.
The university and its president welcomed Gov. Deal, along with state and local representatives, to the intersection of Akins Drive and Forest Drive for an official groundbreaking ceremony for Georgia Southern’s new, $37 million Biological Sciences Building.
Visitors listened to the collection of officials speak about the future facility from a clearing amid rows of trees, where the building’s lobby will be located when the new learning center opens in spring 2013.
The envisioned biology building will be “a nexus where teaching and research converge to form South Georgia’s most comprehensive center for biological science education, outreach and research,” said Keel. “To be able to do something like this, to build a building of this magnitude, at a time when the state budget is so tight, shows that the governor, the general assembly and our local legislatures believe education is the solution to the budget and not the problem.”
The state-funded educational facility, according to Keel, will encompass 155,394 square-feet, house ten teaching laboratories and feature 15 research labs. A work-in-progress since 2005, the new building is intended to replace an existing biology center constructed in 1968 to serve fewer than 5,000 students — Georgia Southern’s expected fall enrollment in 2011 is about 20,000 students, 98 percent of which will take at least one biology class prior to graduation, he said.
“We have been planning this building for many years; it has been planned, thought about, worried about and struggled over for a long, long time,” said Keel. “I am
really excited for what this is going to do for us and this community.”
Deal, who approved state funds pay for the facility, echoed Keel’s sentiment about the importance of a new building.
“What we are doing here today is moving in a direction that our state and nation needs to do more of. We know that the weaknesses in our country, in terms of education, are the lack of students trained in ‘STEM’ Education — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” said the governor. “This building will be a great addition for the campus, and the children coming through here in the future will be educated in an area that we know we are all lacking in, in this country.
“More and more, the businesses coming to our state require technical skills — both scientific and mathematical,” he said. “So, to have a facility like this, that will train our young people in those important areas, will give us a work force to attract business to come to our state.”
Due to additional research opportunities for Georgia Southern students and faculty — created through building a new facility — Deal believes the institution can boost its economic impact throughout the region.
“In the short-term, there will be about 586 jobs that come as a result of this project. It is always good news when we put people to work,” he said. “Also, I am told that in regard to the overall economic impact for the region, we can expect about $54 million in terms of general economic impact to come from this institution. Research opportunities are the kinds of things that bring even greater growth and greater opportunities to the university, the entire region and this state as a whole.”
Keel said the university fosters a commitment to “promoting Georgia Southern University’s role as an engine for economic development in this region.”
“We already contribute roughly $795 million each year — whether directly or indirectly — to the eight or so counties surrounding the university,” he said. “We feel very strongly about doing more research to allow us to recruit more business and industry into this community and southern Georgia.”
Bret Danilowicz, Dean of Georgia Southern University’s Allen E. Paulson College of Science and Technology, is confident the new facility will offer a return on investment.
“We understand that to whom much is given, much is expected,” he said. “The Department of Biology currently leads the university in external research funding and discoveries, and we expect this building will augment their position and ability to secure grants and produce research to impact our community for years to come.”
Danilowicz announced that the biology center will sit among the many trees currently located at the building site. Builders will work to preserve as many trees as possible, and the facility will be energy and water-efficient, he said.
Also, the building will introduce two new styles of classrooms to the institution, said Danilowicz — rooms that place an instructor in the room’s center, with students surrounding him/her to work in teams with computers and projectors, and a lecture-hall with mobile seating, to allow students to move freely in groups.
Georgia Senator Jack Hill, Chair of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, commended Georgia Southern’s efforts to continue formulating strategic plans to account for its constant growth.
“The planning processes have provided the pathway for the building of this campus to match the growth that has happened,” said Hill. “I have always been very proud of what Georgia Southern has done to plan to grow, and plan to be ready when that growth takes place. That can be easier said than done.”
Construction of the new biology building is scheduled to begin in July.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at 912-489-9454.