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UNG Convocation Center reaches peak of its construction

University of North Georgia (UNG) President Dr. Bonita Jacobs speaks during the Topping Out ceremony for the Convocation Center on July 25 on the Dahlonega Campus.

Similar to putting a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae, the University of North Georgia (UNG) celebrated the Convocation Center reaching its construction pinnacle with a Topping Out ceremony July 25 on the Dahlonega Campus.

"It's a symbolic gesture of installing the steel that reaches to the highest point of the building," said Ken Crowe, UNG assistant vice president for facilities, who can see the daily progress from two cameras streaming the activity live online.

Several UNG and Juneau Construction Co. officials, invited guests, and the construction crew watched as a crane lifted and set into place the final steel piece of steel adorned with UNG and U.S. flags.

"It's been magical," UNG President Dr. Bonita Jacobs said of the progress. "And I'd be remiss if I didn't thank the staff who worked with the external contractors to create a beautiful and exceptional building."

Jacobs expects the facility will become a hub of activity for the university and the area, further increasing UNG’s economic impact on the region.

The new 103,000-square-foot multiuse facility on the southwest side of campus will take over as the main arena for large activities at UNG, including concerts, sporting events, and military training exercises. Currently, many of those events occur in the aging and seat-limited Memorial Hall, which was built in 1960 with a capacity of 1,049. It will also host community and regional events, such as job fairs, tournaments, and large-scale meetings.

"It was designed for an enrollment of 1,000 students," said Mac McConnell, UNG's senior vice president for business and finance. "Now, we are approaching 8,000 students on the Dahlonega Campus and nearly 19,000 students across the university. So the Convocation Center is really a transformational space."

Crowe agreed, pointing out UNG and the surrounding community will have a venue large enough to bring more concerts and events to the area.

"Only a limited number of acts can come to a 1,000-seat arena," he said. "But with the 3,600-seat arena, its acoustics, and sound and video equipment, we will have the ability to get more entertainment for students."

The Convocation Center also will house the Department of Kinesiology with its offices, labs and classrooms.

The new Convocation Center will have a significant impact on UNG's graduation ceremonies.

"Spring semester, we had six commencements across two campuses," McConnell said. "We can reduce the number of ceremonies while not reducing the number of tickets available for family members to come to the commencement of their graduates."

Plus, the state-of-the-art building is meant to last, he said.

"I'm 52 and may be able to see my granddaughter graduate from here 30 years from now," Crowe said, explaining he doesn’t have a grandchild yet.

But UNG students, faculty, and staff will have to wait more than six months before stepping into the building. The nearly $40 million facility is set to open in February 2018.

It will be well worth the wait, McConnell said.

"This has been a No. 1 priority for me for well over a decade," he said. "It took that long to secure funding to have it built."

However, he said he is satisfied to finally see the newest anchor for the Dahlonega Campus.

"When I look north toward Price Memorial Hall with that gold steeple, it's an anchor," he said. "When I look to the south and see the Library and Technology Center, I see an anchor. And when I look west and I see the Health and Natural Sciences Building, that's an anchor."

The Convocation Center will become the newest anchor on the southwest side of campus, just off Morrison Moore Parkway. In fact, the three-story center is located near the residence halls. Crowe said that is one more bonus for students.

"Students can walk out their back door of their residence hall and two minutes later, they are sitting in their seats in the new Convocation Center," he said.

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