The University of North Georgia (UNG) held a ceremonial groundbreaking celebration on June 3 on the site located just off Morrison Moore Parkway in Dahlonega, Georgia, where the 3,600-seat, multifunction convocation center is expected to open in 2018.
The event was attended by members of the UNG community, local community members, area lawmakers and government officials, construction partners, and representatives of the University System of Georgia (USG) and its Board of Regents.
"We are so pleased about this project and appreciate you all being here today to celebrate its beginning. The convocation center will become the new focal point for UNG social, academic and athletic events and will help ensure that our students' college experience is among the very best," UNG President Bonita Jacobs said. "The bottom line is that our students are amazing and our university is strong and growing, and this project is critically important to our success."
The Board of Regents of the USG approved plans for the convocation center in 2014, and, with leadership from north Georgia legislators, including Sen. Steve Gooch and Rep. Kevin Tanner, UNG received funding support in 2015 through the state legislature of $3.5 million for planning and design, and $29.3 million in construction funding this year.
"This project was so legitimate and so needed that all of us were committed to finding a way to make it happen," USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby said. "I don't think yet that we realize what an impact this facility will have on this campus and this community. It will be a signature building."
In his remarks, Huckaby also thanked the Board of Regents, legislators and Gov. Nathan Deal for their support of the project; funding for the convocation center was included in Deal's budget recommendation during this year's legislative session.
"I wouldn't have missed this today and I'm excited about it and I'll be excited to come back and cut that ribbon," he said.
Located in the southwest zone of UNG's Dahlonega Campus, the 103,000-square foot facility will serve multiple uses, including academic courses, physical training activities, and university events such as commencement ceremonies, athletic events and meetings. The center also will have several classrooms and faculty offices in addition to the multiuse areas. The construction project will include a companion parking deck to serve the convocation center and nearby campus facilities.
"I would like to thank Gov. Deal and our legislators for their support of higher education and facilities that enhance the educational experiences of students," Philip Wilheit, member of the Board of Regents, said. "A recent report indicated that UNG's annual economic impact on the communities where it has campuses totaled more than $500 million. The convocation center is sure to add to the university's economic impact on the community by drawing visitors from around the country to various events, and it will become an important landmark in this region."
Additional private funding of $2.5 million also is being sought for the athletics areas of the convocation center.
The convocation center will replace the smaller, outdated Memorial Hall as the university's primary event center. UNG's Memorial Hall was constructed in 1960 with a fixed-seating capacity of 1,049. Enrollment at the Dahlonega Campus was only 794 students. Today, UNG serves a growing enrollment of more than 17,000 students across five campuses and is one of the state's largest public universities. Enrollment on UNG's Dahlonega Campus alone has increased to more than 7,000 students.
Memorial Hall currently supports more than 500 separate events and activities each year, to include academic courses, student activities, military training and assemblies, special events, and NCAA Division II athletic programs.
In addition to supporting the needs of typical universities, this new facility is critical to UNG's role as one of only six Senior Military Colleges in the United States. UNG's Corps of Cadets and more than 150 active students in the Georgia Army National Guard detachment on UNG's Dahlonega Campus need expanded military training and assembly space.
Additionally, Memorial Hall will be renovated to provide enhanced classroom capability, more restrooms and an elevator.