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'This is a godsend' - How University of North Georgia renovations are preparing it for the future
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The expanded campus at the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus is open for tours Wednesday, July 21, 2021, following a ribbon cutting ceremony. The expanded campus is on the site of the former Lanier Technical College campus. - photo by Scott Rogers

After three years of design and construction, the University of North Georgia cut the ribbon on the massive renovations to its Gainesville campus Wednesday, July 21. 

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University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs, Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, right, and University System of Georgia Regent Philip Wilheit celebrate Wednesday, July 21, 2021, as the university holds a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of its new expanded Gainesville campus. - photo by Scott Rogers

“I am always excited to be on this campus, and I hope that if you haven’t been lately, you take some time to stroll through campus,” said UNG President Bonita Jacobs during the opening ceremony. “It is a very serene campus and at the same time filled with energy.” 

Totaling $18.9 million, the project was funded by state obligation bonds, said Gainesville campus vice president Richard Oates in an interview. The renovations were a “huge” part of UNG Gainesville’s 10-year master facilities plan, he said. 

UNG acquired the former Lanier Technical College property on July 1, 2019, and completed the project in three phases. The design phase cost $3 million. The construction phase, led by Carrol Daniel Construction, cost $13.6 million; and the third phase of furnishing the buildings and providing equipment and supplies cost $2.3 million. 

“They came in with a budget that is hard for me to believe, and they did it,” Jacobs said.

The renovations would have cost five times as much if new buildings were constructed, said Ken Crowe, UNG’s assistant vice president for facilities, in a previous interview. 

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University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs speaks Wednesday, July 21, 2021, as the university celebrates the expansion of its Gainesville campus during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. - photo by Scott Rogers

The property has six buildings totaling 165,000 square feet, including the 5,800-square-foot Student Health Services building, which opened Jan. 31, 2020; a 20,723-square-foot Film and Digital Media building; a 61,398-square-foot Arts and Technology building; and a 71,242-square-foot Health Science building.

Nursing is “probably the largest piece of this expansion only because we have so many (nurses),” said Dr. Carolynn DeSandre, dean of College of Health Sciences & Professions. She said that 150 of Georgia’s 156 counties are medically underserved and hopes that the expansion of the nursing program will help alleviate nursing shortages. 

The new nursing facility features simulators that allow students to get the hands-on experience they need to prepare them for the real world. The simulation center has doubled in size, from 4 rooms to 8. There used to be only one major control room, and now each simulation room has its own control room. 

“The simulation is a critical component because it takes away that fear factor, so that when they do go into the hospital system for the first time and they’re working with a live person they’ve already sort of been able to practice some of those basic skills on a simulator that can act very human,” Dr. DeSandre said. “Those simulators can talk, they can cry, they can blink, they can tell you they’re nauseated. They can react to what you do to them, they can bleed.”

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The University of North Georgia clinical simulation center is opened Wednesday, July 21, 2021, as the university celebrates its expanded Gainesville campus in a section of buildings that previously housed Lanier Technical College. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Film and Digital Media building features three sound stages, three dressing rooms, a writer’s room, two theater rooms -- one with 60 seats -- a makeup room, a computer lab, and more. 

“You just can’t use the word transformative enough,” Oates said. 

A big part of that transformation has to do with providing spaces for students to stay on campus even when they are not in class. 

“I always describe this campus as being the most residential feeling non-residential campus that I’ve ever been on because they’re (the students) are hanging around,” Oates said. “They were craving for spaces where they could just sit in the buildings in between classes … and so they’re here and they’re engaged.” 

The renovations will also allow the campus to accommodate more students. UNG projects enrollment to increase dramatically by 2025 to nearly 23,000 students, with the Gainesville campus leading the way. The Gainesville campus currently has 7,500 students, 

“The university of North Georgia is a high-demand institution,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had a growth trajectory. It’s stalled a little bit through the pandemic, but much less than most institutions, so we’re faced with coming up against faculty sharing offices when they need private times with students, with not having quite enough classroom space to be able to fully accommodate what we need do, and this is a godsend.”

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The University of North Georgia celebrates the expansion of its Gainesville campus Wednesday, July 21, 2021, with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The expanded campus is at the site of the former Lanier Technical College campus. - photo by Scott Rogers
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