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Work begins on college campus
University Center could be ready by fall
Bonita Jacobs, president of North Georgia College & State University, greets Martha Nesbitt, left, president of Gainesville State College, after addressing the crowd Tuesday during the groundbreaking ceremony for the University Center. The $7 million, 38,000-square-foot facility will be built off Pilgrim Mill Road. - photo by Autumn Vetter

A decades-long dream was realized Tuesday as officials broke ground on University Center, a blended campus of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College.


North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs said the $7 million, 38,000-square-foot facility in Cumming will build on the schools’ “very enriched relationship” that dates back 27 years.


“These are two of the best performing institutions in the state of Georgia,” she said. “… To have these two campuses come together on Ga. 400 and to create this wonderful new center that’s going to accommodate so many students in this region of the country, this satisfies a growing need for higher education in the region.”


Due to rain, the groundbreaking ceremony was held at the Cumming Aquatic Center. The center, which opened last summer, is next to the college site off Pilgrim Mill Road near Ga. 400 at Exit. 16.


Gainesville State President Martha Nesbitt told the crowd of about a 100, which included local officials and state lawmakers, that Tuesday’s ceremony was just the beginning.


“Truly, I believe in another few years we will be here for a groundbreaking on a second building, because I think there will be the demand,” she said.


The academic building will be the new center for higher education in the area, said Mac McConnell, vice president for business and finance at North Georgia.


Construction will be a fast process. The plan is to begin classes in the fall semester, he said.


The instructional center will offer a range of two- and four-year undergraduate programs, graduate programs and professional development opportunities.


In addition, North Georgia's MBA program, currently located in the Cumming City Hall building, will move to the new facility.


Tuesday’s ceremony comes on the heels of an announcement last week by the University System of the Georgia Board of Regents that the two schools will be merged to save money and offer new opportunities.


Regent Philip Wilheit of Gainesville spoke during the ceremony Tuesday, noting that he is looking forward to the changes.


“The plan is to merge eight of our fine universities and schools into four and I think the one I’m most excited about, obviously, is Gainesville State and North Georgia College,” he said. “It’s a blending of two great cultures, two great universities that will serve this area and not only in northeast Georgia.


“We’re going to make it a very successful venture.”


Addressing the crowd, Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt joked that he’s been in office for more than four decades and it “seems like we’ve been working on this for about that long.”


The city worked to secure the land for the Pilgrim Mill Road campus, which will also be near a new National Guard armory and Department of Driver’s Services center.


“When the work that we had already put in, and with the growth that we’ve had over these years, it was only fitting that we have a college campus right here in Cumming,” Gravitt said.


“When people move to a new location, the first thing they look at…is the school system, and certainly this is going to help with that … and it’s going to complement everything that’s gone on in education in this area for many, many years.”


Forsyth County School Superintendent Buster Evans said the local system will work closely with the new campus to provide dual enrollment opportunities for students.


“North Georgia College has been one of our best partners in training and providing a teaching work force, so this really helps us all the way around,” he said. “This is one of the greatest things that I could see happen educationally in Forsyth County.”


Perhaps the person most gratified that work has begun on the campus was Mary Helen McGruder.


A lifelong county resident and NGCSU graduate, McGruder has been a longtime advocate for bringing a university to Forsyth.


“I’ve worked on this since the 1990s,” she said. “So for this to finally come about is truly one of those lifetime dreams come true.”