Brenau University President Ed Schrader stood among the construction of the Brenau Downtown Center as workers continued to place the final touches of a renovation that’s been nearly nine months in the making.
“We’re in the process of putting down a specialty floor that will have the Brenau University logo as part of the tile,” he said, standing on bare flooring inside the building’s entrance by Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville.
Much of the basic work at the 301 Main St. SW building should be complete by the beginning of 2014, though it will be a few months before any students are moved into the building.
The primary building occupants will be students in the proposed doctoral physical therapy program. The university is currently in the process of getting approval by accrediting agencies.
Schrader said a tentative beginning date for the program’s inaugural class would be January 2015.
There is also space set aside for coed undergraduate classes that would directly feed into the graduate program.
In the meantime, certain education and theater classes will use the building, but most likely not until the summer 2014 session.
“Our theater department and number of majors has grown,” Schrader said. “So what we’re doing is providing them more stage space for learning their craft. A stage to theater majors is like a chemistry lab to a science major. It’s their laboratory.”
The 300-seat theater was part of the original Georgia Mountains Center, which was primarily one giant, open space. Now the building is made up of long hallways of classrooms and offices.
It’s also now divided into two stories. The upstairs is unfinished and will remain that way until the university determines how it will best meet the needs of expected coed classes. The future anatomy laboratory will also be on the second floor.
It comes to a total of around 35,000 square feet of extra space for the growing university, which is currently at an all-time high for enrollment. Schrader said Brenau officials expect to reach 3,000 students in early 2014.
The former Georgia Mountains Center was leased by the city of Gainesville to Brenau University in February 2012, granting the building to the university for 50 years. The Times has previously reported the university won’t pay rent for the first five years; after five years, Brenau will pay $10,000 per month for the center’s use.
Schrader said the university also has the option to purchase the building from the city. He said he expects this will happen.
“The way I see it progressing is that we’ll lease it for five or 10 years, the physical therapy program will generate some excess funds, and we’ll save those,” Schrader said. “When we reach a large enough amount to be able to pay for the building, or at least a down payment, then we’ll go ahead and ... purchase it from the city.”
In the meantime, $6.7 million is going into this venture; $3.6 million is for the construction costs, while the other is part of the initial startup costs of hiring faculty and staff for the new doctoral program.
Schrader said he sees the space being an asset to the downtown Gainesville community, but is concerned over potential parking problems.
“Somewhere in year two or three, we’re going to have so many people down here and so many cars,” he said.“We are going to have a parking problem. When I say we, I mean Gainesville. I’m hoping that we’re far enough along ahead of that, that we can make appropriate plans for that parking. But it could easily be, when we’re at full capacity, 300 to 400 more cars every day.”
The university also will continue to rent out the building’s theater, meeting room and boardroom for outside use.
To celebrate the completion of the newly designed building, a black-tie reception is being planned for March 29. The theme will be all things New York, mostly to tie in with the university’s Manhattan-themed art collection, which will line the walls.
“We’re going to use the wall space here to become Brenau’s Manhattan Gallery,” Schrader said. “We have a lot of great connections with Manhattan ... we have such a strong New York collection right now that we thought it would be appropriate to have a New York gallery, a Manhattan gallery.”
Lining the walls will be works from artists who either live in New York, or artists like Andy Warhol who spent much of their time in New York.
“Our students always live with our art all around them,” Schrader said. “This (building) will be the same.”