Brenau University celebrated its past with a black-tie-optional event Saturday night while sharing with guests big plans for the future.
“We are growing all over the place,” President Ed Schrader told the crowd of several hundred gathered for the Brenau Gala.
Evidence of that was the site of the event itself — the Brenau Downtown Center, which the university leases from Gainesville. The university has turned the former Georgia Mountains Center into the home of a new doctor of physical therapy program as well as The Manhattan Gallery of modern art.
“The history and heritage of science at Brenau not only is something that we celebrate from a memorial standpoint, but something we look at from a foundation for the future,” Schrader said.
He said he believes Brenau will become the “Emory of allied health care,” referring to Emory University in Atlanta, which has a widely recognized medical school.
“We don’t grant MDs, but we do everything else that’s necessary for health care in the state of Georgia,” Schrader said. “Our ambition is to be known and recognized in the United States as the pre-eminent allied health care university.”
Also, the university’s Board of Trustees has approved a $55.52 million spending plan that provides for $8 million in new construction for undergraduate dormitories, a human anatomy laboratory and a field house at a new athletics park.
Brenau has completed a $17.7 million first phase of a long-term capital campaign and now has launched the $18.5 million second phase. The university still will be raising money to pay for improvements through donations. In the meantime, it will borrow through bonds so construction can begin.
Artist renderings of some of the new buildings were on display at the gala.
One of the guests, Carol Mitchell of Gainesville, said she was impressed by Brenau’s progressive moves.
“Brenau is a phenomenal asset to the community,” she said.
The gala, following the theme of “The Art and Science of Brenau,” was revamped after a decadelong absence. The event was meant to mark Brenau’s 135th anniversary but also showcase the Downtown Center to the public.
“The one thing we committed to when we made the deal with the city was to keep what was then the Mountains Center alive and to revitalize it to contribute to the future of Gainesville,” Schrader said. “Brenau’s heart and soul is Gainesville and no matter what we do elsewhere, our engagement here will always continue.”
Gainesville City Councilwoman Ruth Bruner, who was mayor when the deal with Brenau was signed, also spoke to the crowd, which was gathered in an enclosed tent between the Downtown Center and square.
She recalled when Brenau first pitched its proposal to the council.
“We were in awe,” Bruner said. “We got to thinking what a great idea it was to bring the graduate studies and health science programs downtown to revitalize the Mountains Center. And (the results) are just absolutely fantastic.”
The art portion of the evening officially opened the school’s Manhattan Gallery on display at the Downtown Center, featuring long-standing pieces from the university’s art collection along with new works.
Brenau University Vice President for External Relations Matt Thomas has said the Manhattan Gallery “just fell into place because of the fact that we’ve had such a strong history with that part of the world,” Thomas said.
“Certainly with Dorothy Vogel and the collection that we received from the Vogels, that just really came into focus.”
Vogel, a special guest at the gala, and her late husband Herbert were avid art collectors. The couple has donated more than 100 works to the university.