OAKWOOD — Gov. Nathan Deal flew into Hall County by helicopter Monday morning to sign the $23.7 billion state budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1, landing at the site where Lanier Technical College will relocate in the coming years.
“It only takes one signature,” Deal joked, before adding that he wished to emphasize what the budget does specifically for Hall.
The big-ticket local item in the budget is $48.3 million in bonds earmarked for construction of the new Lanier Tech campus on Howard Road off Ga. 365 north. Lanier Tech President Ray Perren said the campus is scheduled to open in fall 2018.
But that’s only about half the funding needed to complete the project.
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said he is confident lawmakers will pony up more money next year.
“Lanier Tech does so much for Hall County and the state of Georgia in preparing people for jobs,” he added. “We’re trying to build for 50 to 60 years down the road.”
Lanier Tech's main campus has been located off Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood since the 1970s, with classes first beginning in 1966 and held in local schools, churches and civic buildings, according to its website.
School officials have said the current buildings are outdated and the new location is optimal for growing enrollment and expanding programs.
The existing building will be repurposed and retrofitted for use by the University of North Georgia, whose Gainesville campus is adjacent to the current Lanier Tech site.
Deal said one of his education priorities going forward is raising graduation rates, particularly at colleges and universities.
Skilled labor is particularly crucial for local manufacturing, food processing and other industries in Hall.
But more work force development is needed to meet growing demand.
And that’s why Deal said Lanier Tech’s new campus fits this mission perfectly.
Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said about 50 percent of all employment in Hall is directly tied to the job skills taught in classes at Lanier Tech.
“That’s thousands and thousands of jobs,” he added. “So this is a long-term investment in the community.”
The new campus location was chosen because it provides direct access to Ga. 365 and has utilities infrastructure in place.
The land is graded for construction, as well. A Walmart had been planned for the site before the economic recession hit and halted development.
Brian Rochester, executive vice president of Rochester & Associates, a Gainesville civil engineering firm, said his company is currently developing everything on the new campus “up to the foundation.”
Work is well underway.
Deal also announced Monday that another 8 acres had been added to the new campus thanks to a land donation, bringing the campus acreage total to 95.
The additional acreage will be slated for a conference center, Deal said.
The state budget also includes $29.4 million in additional funds for the Move on When Ready dual-enrollment program; $300 million in additional funds intended for teacher salary increases; and $26.2 million for pre-K teacher pay hikes.