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USG budget request to include trio of UNG projects

September 23, 2019

A project to expand the current academic building at the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Cumming Campus took an initial step toward becoming a reality Sept. 10 when the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) included $1 million in planning and design funds in its Fiscal Year 2021 Capital Budget Request.

Additionally, the USG request submitted to the state Office of Planning and Budget includes $19.5 million for the construction of a new Cottrell Center for Business, Technology & Innovation on the Dahlonega Campus and $2.3 million to equip the former Lanier Tech space on the Gainesville Campus. The three UNG projects included in USG's Fiscal Year 2021 Capital Budget Request total $22.8 million. Additional approval by the governor and legislators is required as part of the state budgeting process.

"Northeast Georgia has experienced tremendous growth and that trend is projected to continue. Expansion of our facilities is key so that we can meet the increased demand for higher education in the region," President Bonita Jacobs said. "We are very grateful for the support of the University System of Georgia staff, the Board of Regents, and our legislators for recognizing this need and for their support of these important projects at UNG."

Georgia is home to 15 of the top 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation according to 2018 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Eleven of those counties are in UNG's 30-county service area, including Jackson (11th), Forsyth (30th), Oconee (40th), Dawson (50th), Greene (72nd), Towns (76th), Morgan (85th), Cherokee (93rd), Barrow (94th), Fannin (97th), and Union (99th). From 2010 to 2018, Forsyth County, Georgia, was the ninth-fastest-growing county in the nation with a growth rate of 34.8%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Jason Pruitt, executive director of the Cumming Campus, is cautiously optimistic. He has watched enrollment on the campus grow 170% since it opened in August 2012. That growth has meant a cap this year on dual enrollment of high school students. Two graduate programs, the Master of Business Administration and the Master of Science in counseling, and the university’s Office of Professional and Continuing Education operate off-campus in the Cumming City Hall.

"We're sitting in the middle of one of the fastest-growing areas of the state and the nation, plus the Georgia 400 corridor is increasingly becoming a destination for technology industries," Pruitt said. "The Chamber of Commerce is looking to UNG to help provide an educated workforce that can live and work in Cumming and Forsyth County, and we have plans for specific degree programs and courses that could meet those needs. We just don't have the space."

The growth in UNG enrollment on the Cumming Campus is fed by population growth and an increase in high school enrollment in the county, Pruitt said. Forsyth County Schools, which will open its eighth high school next fall, is Georgia's seventh-largest public school district and has an annual growth rate of around 5% in its high school population that is projected to continue through 2022 and beyond.

"We've looked at the number of high school graduates that are projected in our area through 2026, and that also creates a growing need for higher education in this area," Pruitt said. "We're extremely grateful to the Board of Regents for recognizing this need and for being willing to invest in the Cumming Campus. Expanding educational opportunities for our area — that's what we're excited about."

Capital fund projects are typically funded over a period of three years. The first year is for planning and design, the second year is for construction, and the third year is for equipment. If approved, the $19.5 million requested for the new home for UNG's Mike Cottrell College of Business would fund the construction phase of the Cottrell Center for Business, Technology & Innovation. The project got a boost from a $10 million gift from its namesake benefactor in June and $2.3 million for planning and design in the state's Fiscal Year 2020 budget approved in April.

The third UNG project included in the Fiscal Year 2021 Capital Budget Request, renovation of the property adjacent to the Gainesville Campus that formerly housed Lanier Technical College, would fund equipment and supplies if approved. The fiscal year 2020 state budget included $13.6 million for renovations, which started this fall on the $18.9 million project.

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