Dalton State unveils growth plans

Dalton State College officials are planning to grow the college to 8,000 students over the next 10 years, and they hope to house about 2,000 of them on a campus increasingly designed for residential students seeking a traditional college experience.
The college currently has close to 6,000 students.

Planners with Sasaki Associates Inc. on Thursday unveiled the colleges facilities master plan based on expectations for the next 10 to 12 years. A Boston-based, international planning and design firm hired to help formulate Dalton States master plan, Sasaki is working under a $175,000 contract.

College President John Schwenn said that while initial public discussions in September included a lot of talk about locating some offerings downtown, the college will focus first on improving its current campus. Any future improvements, Sasaki representatives said, would be best focused on areas that have already seen some success in revitalizing downtown such as the civic district around Dalton City Hall and the Hamilton Street shops.

What were trying to do is make (ourselves into) a very good, four-year, residential (college) that serves the needs of Northwest Georgia and beyond, Schwenn said. Were very willing to go downtown and to take programs downtown, but we have to have someone partner with us.

Until that happens, college leaders said theyll focus on the current campus off College Drive. Sasaki representative Brie Hensold said those efforts include building a 70,000-square-foot academic building designed primarily for science, increasing residential capacity from less than 300 to about 2,000, doubling the size of the Pope Student Center, raising parking spaces from about 2,600 to 3,400, and adding several classrooms large enough to accommodate 40 to 60 students each.

There are also plans for rerouting George Rice Drive to loop around the Wood Valley apartment complex and the James E. Brown Center back out onto College Drive. The reconfiguration would call for the main entrance to Dalton State to come off of George Rice Drive rather than through College Drive, and it includes plans to locate the visitor center inside the student center. Signs directing traffic to the new locations would be stationed throughout campus.

Sasaki representative Victor Vizgaitis said the plan would be implemented in three phases beginning with redesigning the core of campus, moving to the south end with building student housing and placing an athletic field of some sort where the current gravel parking lot is located, then finishing at the north end near the Brown center.

Expanding the student center and offering dining services there is one major facet of the plan.

Whats critical is really developing the core campus some more, he said.

The facilities master plan will align with the academic master plan and an athletics study, both of which are slated to be completed this spring. According to a press release from the college, officials plan to submit to the Board of Regents for approval during the next academic year plans to add baccalaureate programs in nursing, general studies, communication, psychology, digital design, information technology (networking/security), health informatics, respiratory therapy, environmental science, forensic science, middle grades education and economics. An associates degree in music will also be submitted.

Long-term plans call for development of several more bachelors programs as well as some masters programs, said Vice President for Academic Affairs Sandra Stone.

Schwenn said the college might not be able to get funding for the new academic building this year, but he expects the building to be under way within two years. He also expects work to begin within the next couple of years on student housing at the south end of campus as well as on renovating the student center.

Randall Griffus, dean of the school of sciences and mathematics, said after a formal presentation to faculty, staff and students that the facilities master plan looks good. About 80 people attended, most of them faculty or staff.

We are short on science lab space, Griffus said. Were pretty much utilizing the science labs now five days a week.

After a public meeting at the Freight Depot later on Thursday, Sharon Beavers, an assistant professor of education who was a student at the school in 1968, said she is concerned the campus will grow to more than 8,000 students before 10 years. She said more needs to be done to address parking needs, including looking further into the possibility of underground parking a suggestion Sasaki officials said would likely be prohibitively expensive.

Beavers said the plan is good, but shes worried it doesnt go far enough.

By the time all of this gets completed, well already have outgrown it, she said. Every inch of space is going to be precious.

Johnny Fain, a senior landscaping architecture major at the University of Georgia in Athens, said he was at the meeting to work on his senior project. The project involves studying ways to bring an art campus from Dalton State downtown.

Fain said he likes the ideas hes heard so far about locating downtown.

I think it would be on the front burner if the economy was doing well, he said, adding he believes the college is Whitfield Countys biggest economic asset. It seems like a lot of stuff is closing, but Dalton State keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Growth plans

Add a 70,000-square-foot academic building.

Tear down the Wood Valley apartment complex and replace it with more efficient housing for up to 1,600 students.

Add student housing at the south end of the campus for about 400.

Double the size of the student center.

Redesign parking lots and add another parking deck.

Create a pedestrian pathway that runs down the center of campus from Roberts Library on the south to the James E. Brown Center on the north.

Add small outdoor park areas.

Expand the library and gymnasium.

What about cost?

The master plan doesnt detail how the various projects would be paid for. What is known is that some projects including athletics and a proposed new parking deck would be paid for through student fees or funding from the Dalton State College Foundation. State funding would require specific approval from the Georgia Legislature in some cases and the Board of Regents in others.
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