GHC plans new $17.7 million building: Investment will help growing college deal with ever-increasing enrollment

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Georgia Highlands College’s Cartersville campus is growing.

Funding for a new $17.7 million academic building was approved in the fiscal year 2017 state budget signed by Gov. Nathan Deal May 2, and the new science, technology, engineering and mathematics-based facility will enable the college to better handle its ever-increasing enrollment.

“The addition of this new academic building will include spaces for laboratories, classrooms, a lecture hall, study rooms and more,” GHC President Dr. Don Green said in a press release. “This increases GHC’s ability to directly impact and support the community workforce through STEM-based degrees, and it allows GHC to better serve as the University System of Georgia’s primary access institution in the region.”

A surge in enrollment numbers since last summer has made the much-needed facility vital to the college’s ability to offer all the classes and programs its students need.

“We had an increase in the summer, a 7.1 percent increase in the fall and a 6.3 percent increase in the spring,” Green said. “Being the most accessible and affordable option in the state with career-oriented degree programs is our mission at GHC. And giving our students everything they need to succeed is crucial. This new academic building helps us complete both of those objectives in a time we are seeing so much growth.”

The three-story, 67,700-square-foot academic building will be situated on 1 acre at the current campus, and the college expects to break ground this fall, according to Sheila Jones, GHC director of public relations and marketing.

The new structure, which received design funding in 2013, will allow GHC students to complete 14 degree programs — biology, chemistry, dental hygiene, geology, nursing, occupational therapy, pre-dentistry, pre-engineering, pre-medicine, pre-optometry, pre-veterinary medicine, pre-pharmacy, pre-physical therapy and RN-BSN (nursing) — without having to travel to another campus location, Jones said.

This option, along with GHC’s proximity to Interstate 75, gives students the access they need to complete their college degree, Green added.

GHC originally intended to seek funding for the new building in the fiscal year 2016 budget, Jones said.

“However, in order to work on increasing enrollment, GHC tabled the pursuit, with the understanding it would be put back on this year’s list,” she said. “According to the University System of Georgia’s Fall 2015 Semester Enrollment Report, Georgia Highlands College had the third-highest enrollment increase in the state. With this swell in enrollment, GHC pursued funding for the construction of a new academic building with a focus on STEM-based areas of study at the Cartersville campus in the fiscal year 2017 budget.”

Deal did not recommend approval of the USG’s request for construction funds for the building, according to a list of the governor’s capital recommendations, but the state House of Representatives added it to the new budget, and the state Senate and the conference committee retained it.

“GHC worked diligently with our legislative delegation throughout the session and knew it received final approval for funding for new construction ... on May 2, when Gov. Deal signed the state budget,” Jones said, noting the budget takes effect July 1.

Green said the new addition also will contribute to raising the current $132 million economic impact the college’s five campuses in Rome, Cartersville, Marietta, Dallas and Douglasville have on northwest Georgia and will continue to strengthen and broaden GHC’s ability to maintain a strong relationship with K-12 school systems in the area.

Vice President for Advancement Mary Transue, who serves in GHC’s government relations role, said the college received a lot of support during legislative session, particularly as legislators became aware of the scope of GHC’s footprint in this region as well as the return on investment and value it provides students.

“We would like to especially thank our legislators for all they do to support GHC, the USG and education in the state,” she said in the press release. “Without their tireless support and dedication, this venture would not have been possible.”

Dr. Renva Watterson, vice president for academic affairs, said the new addition will be a great benefit for GHC students.

“GHC is committed to serving students in the communities where they reside, and with this next building, students will be able to experience state-of-the-art chemistry and microbiology laboratories, computer classrooms, an art lab with gallery space, a well-equipped lecture hall and much more, all in an excellent teaching and learning environment,” she said.