Published Sunday, March 24, 2013

Landing UWG Newnan campus at old hospital mammonth task

Yank out about a quarter of the names in the Newnan phone book and you'd be close to the number who've been involved in developing a downtown university campus.

The number of agreements, sign-offs, funding options, meetings and "what-ifs" is, according to city officials, at times overwhelming. Yet the $15 million project to renovate the old Newnan Hospital on Jackson Street into a new campus for the University of West Georgia's existing Newnan campus continues.

This is in the midst of a transfer of leadership for UWG.

Dr. Kyle Marrero, currently vice president for University Advancement at the University of West Florida, Pensacola, was officially named Friday as the seventh president of the University of West Georgia by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. Marrero will assume his new post on July 1, 2013,

"There are several conditions that have to be agreed to," said City Manager Cleatus Phillips about the planned conversion of the old Newnan Hospital as a new home for UWG's Newnan Center. "And we are in the process of going through all those conditions."

The city is so serious about the project succeeding, it will be issuing bonds — basically going into long-term debt — to cover the costs. It will be the first time in more than 10 years the city has taken on or guaranteed debt. The last time was in 2002 when the city created a hospital authority and guaranteed Newnan Hospital's purchase of the old Coweta General Hospital facilities on Hospital Road.

"This is one of the most exciting projects we've ever undertaken," said Mayor Keith Brady. "It will have a huge impact on the economy."

"We have not had long-term debt in a long time," he added. "We believe this project is worthy of finally having some debt... it's an important obligation to our citizens."

The project will bring a massive economic boost through job creation and construction purchases, provide new higher education opportunities, and create an atmosphere to bring in supporting businesses.

It is expected to have a one-time economic impact of $21 million during the construction phase and create 176 jobs, according to a West Georgia study. Over the long term, operational and student expenditures in the community are estimated to be between $1.4 million and $3.4 million.

"Outside of the direct economic impact, the Newnan Hospital Redevelopment Project is a catalytic project that will undoubtedly improve the overall business climate of the downtown district," said Hasco Craver IV, business development director for the city. "Retail, restaurant, service and professional as well as financial institutions and all other providers of goods and services within the local trade area will benefit from the project.

"In addition, the project will provide individuals with the opportunity to obtain a university education here in Newnan," he added. "Providing our current and future businesses with a well-trained workforce is of paramount importance and this project simply adds to our current compliment of post-secondary educational opportunities."

Brady likened it to a "generational effect" where area students could remain here.

"People will not have to leave home to get an education or to continue one," he said.

Craver added that "providing our current and future businesses with a well-trained workforce is of paramount importance and this project simply adds to our current compliment of post-secondary educational opportunities."

Several of the conditions mentioned by Phillips already have come to pass to move the existing UWG campus from its current location at Shenandoah Industrial Park to the Hospital property on Jackson Street.

The University System Board of Regents has agreed to purchase the renovated property from the city for $5 millinon. A project manager, Comprehensive Program Services, is on board.

The board of Newnan Hospital Inc. will donate the land and buildings, and provide about $4.2 million. Coweta County has agreed to kick in $535,000 spread out over the next 10 years.

A traffic study showed there would be no adverse impacts from moving the campus. An engineering study, which found asbestos as expected, is currently being reviewed.

The question remains what to do with the asbestos, and officials on all sides are discussing that issue. The end result could be removing some or all of it, or simply placing carpet and other protective materials where the asbestos is concentrated. Most of the asbestos was in floor and ceiling tiles, and pipe insulation.

"We are continuing to discuss that issue," Craver said.

Construction and renovation is expected to begin later this year and the city hopes to turn over the keys in January 2015.

Changes include creating about 51,000 square feet of usable space and nearly 32,000 square feet of "warm shell" expansion space, plus a new lecture hall.

The university will move from its current location, where it has been for 22 years, and look toward expanding health-related degree programs.

"This will include additional nursing laboratories, patient simulators and classrooms because the Newnan/Coweta area is fast becoming a respected healthcare focal point and a pool of highly educated, well-prepared nurses is a vital component to the community’s continued growth in this critical-need field," university officials said in a statement. "In addition, the new facility will provide space for a large lecture hall, a library, a food court, a bookstore and additional administrative and faculty offices. It will also allow UWG to expand dual-enrollment opportunities for local high school students, particularly in the science, math and technology disciplines."

According to the university, "In addition to core curriculum classes and joint enrollment for high school students, UWG-Newnan offers two full undergraduate degree programs (Early Childhood Education and Nursing) and five graduate degree programs (Master’s in Early Childhood, Special Ed, and Secondary Education; Master’s in Business Administration; and Specialist in Educational Leadership). Forty percent of the Newnan Center’s students reside in Coweta County, and undergraduate enrollment has quadrupled over the past ten years."

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