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Blue Ridge Campus construction turns inside as completion date nears

Construction on UNG's new standalone Blue Ridge Campus is nearing completion. The single-story building will be ready for occupancy in August 2020.

Construction on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Blue Ridge Campus hit a significant benchmark April 24. The roof and exterior walls were finished, allowing construction to move inside and not be affected by inclement weather.

"We call it 'dried in,'" said Todd Bermann, director of capital planning and project management in the facilities department at UNG. "It is an important phase because we can start putting up interior walls."

This substantial milestone comes eight months after construction began on the more than 12,000-square-foot building. Bermann said despite rain delays, the new standalone Blue Ridge Campus will be ready for occupancy in August 2020.

"We had built in some weather delays, but we exceeded those in December, January and February," he said. "Now, we are expediting other areas to make up for that lost time."

The necessity for a standalone Blue Ridge Campus stemmed from its exponential growth since opening in 2015. For the 2015-16 academic year, 20 students were enrolled. That number increased by nearly 800% with 175 students enrolled in the 2019-20 academic year.

"Not only UNG but the community and region needed to have a standalone campus to provide opportunities in education, economic development and workforce development to help grow this region," said Sandy Ott, director of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus. "This new campus is a game-changer because of the expanded access to education that it provides and the resulting impact on the region."

The new building, located off Ga. 515 about 3 miles from the current Dunbarton Road facility, will have four classrooms with one that doubles as a computer lab. A full biology lab that can be converted into a chemistry lab will be available as well.

Ott explained with more space UNG can offer more courses to students, which will allow them to spend more time at the Blue Ridge Campus. Currently, UNG students spend between a year and a year-and-a-half there taking required core curriculum classes before they transfer to the Gainesville or Dahlonega campus.

"We will have the ability to expand programs and offer the opportunity to complete courses for a specific major," Ott said. "For example, this fall we will offer the introductory major courses in the field of education. Those courses have not been offered in Blue Ridge before."

Other areas not offered in abundance at the current 2,800-square-foot building are shared study spaces. Now they are spread throughout the building. A welcoming entry plaza plus a patio at the rear will be available for students to study, gather or relax between classes.

Five dual-occupancy offices are designated for faculty while five offices will be for administration staff. Bermann estimates the facility will be ready for new furniture and equipment to be installed in July. Faculty may move into their offices the first of August as fall classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 17.

Students, faculty and staff will have 42 parking spaces at the new site. Many will park there on the half-day of orientation scheduled for Aug. 14. The campus also plans to host the public at its annual Tomato Sandwich Supper on Sept. 24.

UNG students, faculty and staff as well as visitors will have easier and safer access onto the campus thanks to a Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) from the Georgia Department of Transportation, announced state Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). The $150,000 will help fund modifications to Ga. 515 including a Reduced Conflict U-Turn (RCUT) intersection, which will allow cars traveling north from downtown Blue Ridge to turn left onto campus. 

The Georgia General Assembly funded the $5.5 million project in the 2019 fiscal year. Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston, a UNG alumnus who represents Georgia District 7, including Fannin County, in the General Assembly, helped secure the money.

"This building will give our students, faculty and staff a home of their own," said Ken Crowe, assistant vice president of facilities at UNG. "And this building is a statement to the community. UNG is driving a stake in the ground to say we are here for the long haul."

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