Like every fall, Georgia Southern students are coming back in full force.
Friday is the official move in day for the dorms at GSU and classes begin on Monday.
For many of the students, this will be their first time living in our community.
Driving may be a little more challenging, as will wait times at local restaurants, plus the grocery stores will struggle to keep up for a few weeks.
But soon, it will all level out and become normal life in the "prettiest little college town in America."
With all the extra challenges for long time residents, please remember to offer a little patience as local businesses adjust. This is like Christmas to many of our retailers. I also like to remind our readers to go out of your way to welcome these new citizens and their parents to our community.
Their initial experience in our community over the next few weeks will set the tone for their success here over the next few years. Be patient, kind, appreciative and mindful of the tremendous economic impact they are making on our community thanks to GSU, East Georgia College and Ogeechee Technical College.
This is also a great time to take a look at updates and changes that have occurred on the Georgia Southern campus while the students were away:
One of the biggest and most notable changes are the renovations at the Russell Union. They have completed a $1 million-HVAC upgrade and fulfilled an additional $500,000 in contractual obligations to renovate the Chick-fil-A and Starbucks that are located inside the Union. The renovations have dramatically improved and changed both restaurants.
These restaurants are unique partnerships between GSU and the chains. They are operated by full-time and part-time GSU employees through licensing agreement. All of the employees are trained to company standards and the business operations are exactly the same as any other Chick-fil-A or Starbucks.
The Chick-fil-A was built more than 15 years ago and was only designed to handle around $750,000 in annual revenue.
The Union restaurant is now generating well more than $2 million annually. Due to this increase in volume of business, they were having difficulty keeping up with demand. To improve the customer experience, they have made significant improvements in the kitchen. Also, you will see new tile, new countertops, fresh paint and updated branding throughout. More importantly, a faster and better customer experience.
Starbucks also was completely renovated and had its capacity expanded from 40 to 85 seats. Starbucks now offers a more open and inviting atmosphere, new countertops, flooring, updated decor, new furniture, more outlets for electronics and more social seating.
All of the upgrades and renovations were done by Auxiliary Services employees with the university. Auxiliary Services employees 800 students and 500 of the student employees work in food services on campus. Both Chick-fil-A and Starbucks on campus will reopen on Friday.
Also, Auxiliary Services will introduce a food truck mid-fall. A food truck will add a mobile kitchen to their menu of services. The mobility will allow them to prepare food on the go, including Paulson Stadium on game days. During the school week, the food truck will be located close to the bus stop near the stadium to offer a food option there. The food truck will be set up to handle multiple menus.
Food services added Sushi in the spring in a partnership with "Sushi with Gusto." They prepare the Sushi fresh on campus and sell it in the three GUS Mart convenience stores on campus. The stores are located in the Nursing Building, Russell Union and Information Technology Building.
"We are very proud of the fact that, for the fourth year, the meal plan price has not increased," said Eddie Mills, associate vice president of Auxiliary Services. "This is also the fifth year we have not increased the price for housing, transit, parking and health fees. We are very cognizant of the cost of higher Ed and work every day to try to provide quality services at an affordable price."
Parking and transportation:
Reconstruction of the second half of the Russell Union parking lot is now complete, adding 115 more spaces than last year. This brings the total number of parking spaces on campus to more than 13,000, which includes Paulson Stadium.
Parking services has moved away from decals this year and streamlined the parking registration process, which is completed online now. Students now register their vehicle using the license plate on the vehicle. GSU will enforce parking more efficiently using tag readers. This will prevent students from having to stand in long lines and having to place a decal on their car.
Construction is scheduled to start on the entrance road at South Campus in September and is estimated to take about nine months. When complete it will align Akins Boulevard at the bypass with the entrance to the land across the bypass which was acquired by the university several years ago. South Campus currently contains plant operations. It will provide critical space for any future expansion of the campus.
The University Store received a face lift last year, which included new wooden floors and a more open shopping experience. Also, a new point-of-sale system allows customers to receive receipts via email for easier returns, exchanges and tax record keeping. The store now offers an in-house rental program with more titles, as well as a broader selection of eBooks. Other new features, including a customer loyalty program and online gift registry, are coming soon.
Renovations continue at Hanner Fieldhouse, which saw various building systems and infrastructure upgrades over the summer. Mainly consisting of fire protection systems and HVAC, the facelift was completed during the year and includes more inviting signage and a welcoming and more efficient entrance.
The track around the soccer field at the Erk Russell Park behind Paulson Stadium was resurfaced. This is where Tormenta FC hosts their games. In addition, renovations of all of the private suites at Paulson is underway and scheduled to be complete by the first home football game on Sept. 9.Delete - Merge Up
Construction on the interdisciplinary academic building (IAB) has begun and is on schedule to be completed by the beginning of fall semester 2018. The building will replace two temporary classroom structures located between the Carroll Building and the IT building. The total project cost may exceed $33 million.
The design and pre-construction services were funded by the state of Georgia for the new Center for Engineering and Research building. All services are currently being advertised for the project, with anticipation of design and program services to start this winter for the project.
University Villas: All windows were replaced, vinyl siding installed, all entrance doors, the clubhouse, the bridge and gazebo leading to the pond were painted. More than 130 exterior surveillance cameras were installed. Wireless coverage in all apartments was upgraded, as was the CCTV system. A new fire alarm system and panic alarm system was installed.
Freedom's Landing: New roofs were installed, exterior trim was removed and repaired and the wireless system was upgraded. During winter break, they have plans to install 13 new exterior emergency call boxes throughout the complex.
Southern Pines: New windows were installed.
Watson Commons: During the next four weeks, they will complete a summer project to renovate University Housings reception area. Ten private temporary lodging spaces were renovated to accommodate students who may be temporarily displaced from their permanent assignment. The new spaces look like mini hotel suites.
If you head over to Georgia Southern to check out all of the progress, remember that by state law the speed limit on the entire campus is 25 mph whether marked or not. This includes the divided Akins Boulevard connected to the bypass. They police all campus roads with radar and are diligent about making sure everyone drives safe and responsibly on campus.