The city of Oakwood has joined up with two colleges in its backyard to build a massive welcome sign off Interstate 985's Exit 17 by this fall.
Oakwood, Gainesville State College and Lanier Technical College are hoping to complete the project by the fall, even though the sign won't gain permanence until January, when North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and Gainesville State will be under one name.
The colleges are fusing together under a plan the University System of Georgia says will increase system efficiencies and better serve students.
The sign project initially was an effort between just Oakwood and Lanier Tech.
"The reason it started off that way is because (Lanier Tech is) kind of in the back side of the campus and ... they wanted (Exit 17) to be the front door to Lanier Tech," City Manager Stan Brown said. "There was no intention to leave Gainesville State out."
Gainesville State is the most visible of the two campuses, with the heavily traveled Mundy Mill Road and Thurmon Tanner Parkway as its bordering roads.
The sign will be located off Thurmon Tanner at Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway.
An architectural rendering for the sign shows a stacked-stone foundation, 19-foot-wide aluminum arbor and electronic message board. It also depicts space for Oakwood, Gainesville State and Lanier Tech logos.
Overall, the sign will stand about 35 feet wide and more than 10 feet tall.
Brown said he has gotten a permit to place the sign on Georgia Department of Transportation right of way.
"That'll be our front door in from the north," he said in an October interview.
It will give Lanier Tech a formal entrance, "which we've never really had before," said Russell Vandiver, Lanier Tech president, at that time.
The sign will cost $70,000 to $75,000, with the colleges splitting the cost, said Martha Nesbitt, Gainesville State's president.
"Both of us will try to raise foundation funds for the sign," she said. "The city is going to do the engineering."
Plus, the city "will take over operation of the sign once it's up," Nesbitt said.
The plan is for the colleges to use the sign's message board to publicize key announcements, such as registration dates, and Oakwood to advertise city-sponsored events.
Nesbitt, who is retiring June 30, said she believes the sign will be useful to all parties.
"I think it's great. I'm real excited about it," she said.
As far as the college's new name, Nesbitt said she believes "that will be settled within a couple of months.
"We're doing focus groups right now to get people's ideas about the themes they want to see in the new school and the names and all of that," she said.
She believes a vote on the name could come as soon as the state Board of Regents meeting in May.
The new name can't be placed on the sign until January. So, in the meantime, the sign could feature some type of fixture showing Gainesville State as the institution's temporary name, Nesbitt said.