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Chestnut Mountain land offered to Lanier Tech for relocation
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Forsyth County News

OAKWOOD — A potential site for the relocation of Lanier Technical College has been identified in the Chestnut Mountain area.

Doug Magnus, president and founder of Conditioned Air Systems Inc. in Gainesville, confirmed to The Times on Monday afternoon that he has offered 121 acres to the school “in the vicinity” of Winder Highway east of Interstate 985.

Officials with the school have said the current facilities are outdated and rebuilding at the Oakwood location is unrealistic.

No deal has yet been struck and officials involved in finding land for Lanier Tech’s new campus said they are considering more than 20 properties throughout the county.

“The technical schools system is looking at several plots,” Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal, wrote in an email.

Philip Wilheit, chairman of the Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority, said he met with Magnus on Friday and that while nothing is in writing, the initial offer includes three different scenarios: donation of some land; receiving infrastructure improvements in exchange for land; or a sale and purchase.

But the site owned by Magnus is the first major signal that officials are closing in on securing land for the college, and it is considered a viable option, those involved told The Times.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Wilheit, adding that he has not yet viewed the property.

Wilheit, along with representatives from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and Lanier Tech, is spearheading the search for a site.

“There’s a committee that’s doing this,” he said. “It’s not just Philip.”

Lanier Tech President Ray Perren said last week that he’d like to have a new campus open to students by the beginning of the fall 2018 academic year.

“I think that’s a very doable calendar, really,” Wilheit said. “Step one is identifying the property.”

Perren said he would like to acquire between 65 and 75 acres for a new campus, with specific land needs including connection to sewer and telecommunications infrastructure.

“We certainly want to take a look at any available parcel that meets the needs of the college and certainly [the Chestnut Mountain property] will be in the mix,” Perren said Monday. “I really don’t know enough details about the property to make much more of a comment.”

The 2016 fiscal year state budget approved in April includes $10 million in bonds and $865,000 in general funds to purchase property and design a new campus for the school in Hall County.

“Let me emphasize that price is by no means the main criteria here,” Wilheit said. “Price is part of the decision-making process, but accessibility to the students, visibility and proximity to other technical schools, that sort of thing all has to go into the mix, as well.”

“I don’t want anybody to get carried away just by the thought of free land …” he added.

Deal, as governor, is chairman of the State Properties Commission, which will have to sign off on any land purchase for the college’s relocation.

“We’re keeping the governor’s office apprised of everything we’re looking at because at the end of the day this is a project that we want the governor’s complete buy-in to,” said Wilheit, who formerly served as Deal’s campaign chairman. “This is going to be a very transparent operation.”