By Christopher Smith
Despite a steady downpour, Dalton State College officials were “overjoyed” to be outside in the rain for the ceremonial groundbreaking of its new science building, which will be completed before summer 2014.
The groundbreaking took place behind the Bandy Gymnasium and came after seven years of waiting.
“The building was put on the list by the state Board of Regents for major funding, but when Chancellor Erroll Davis took over, the system reorganized the list and put different criteria on it,” DSC President John Schwenn said. “The revised list had us down on the bottom so we had to work up the list again.”
The construction company, New South, will begin working this week, said company officials.
“We are very excited to be involved in this project,” said John Davidson, president and CEO of New South. “We got the award in 2011 and we wanted to get started on it — I remember because it was my birthday — but we were not able to do that that year. But here we are today and we’re excited to get started with the design team Lord, Aeck and Sargent.”
The state is paying $15 million for the 60,000-square-foot building, while a $500,000 contribution from the John Willis Mashburn Charitable Trust will used for the project, according to school officials. The Board of Regents included $2.1 million in its 2014 budget to furnish and equip the building. Design funds of $1.3 million were appropriated in 2010.
The new building will be centrally located and will be considered a student “hang out spot” with a coffee shop and large space to congregate, said Sandra Stone, vice president for academic affairs.
“We are really trying to grow our science program, especially biology, chemistry and physics,” she said. “This is wonderful. It will allow us to offer our students state-of-the-art classes and let them find a career in sciences.”
Stone said there is a growing interest from local businesses in students pursuing careers in the chemical industry. Also, Randall Griffus, dean of the school of science, has been talking to companies to design internships.
“This new building is going to be a tremendous asset as we work to increase the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) graduates in our area,” Griffus said. “Our science programs are really growing. We currently have 66 chemistry majors and about 325 biology majors. We’re running 76 labs a week.”
Local businesses will be happy, Stone said.
“They can hire just about as many chemists as we can graduate,” Stone added. “They’ve also given us some recommendations to our curriculum to get students more industry-ready. We will continue to work alongside chemical-based companies in Dalton.”
Stone believes this is the first step of growth after the college’s decision to eliminate its technical division last year, which resulted in an enrollment drop from 5,485 students in 2011 to 5,047 this year.
“It will make our school more attractive to stay here,” she said. “It was a much-needed step. It’s a much-needed building. I think we’ll have an increase in students who look at (the college) as a first choice.”