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Gainesville State student center opens with more space
Brittney D’Amito and Jason Belcher provide music for Wednesday’s dedication of the Dr. Herbert Robinson Ballroom at Gainesville State College in Oakwood. - photo by Tom Reed

OAKWOOD — Gainesville State College leaders past and present gathered Wednesday to celebrate the grand opening of the school’s $8.2 million expanded, renovated student center.

The 54,000-square-foot building will serve as the "living room" of the college’s Oakwood campus and a "one-stop shop" for students.

The facility houses student service offices such as admissions, financial aid, the enrollment services center and the registrar’s office. The building also features cozy study lounges, a computer lab, a television lounge, a cybercafe, a multicultural resource center, a bookstore, a student dining commons area and a multistation cafeteria.

The center also includes a ballroom that holds 200 people. The ballroom and multipurpose area was named for Herbert W. Robinson, who served for 13 years as the dean of students and dean of college relations at then-Gainesville Junior College from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Robinson also taught political science at Gainesville State and history at Brenau University before retiring in 1990.

Tom Walter, vice president of student development and enrollment management at Gainesville State, credited Robinson for playing an important part of the school’s beginning. Walter said the former dean of students guided much of the college’s focus on student success.

Robinson, a 92-year-old Dawsonville native, was present at the dedication ceremony.

"I certainly don’t deserve this, but I certainly appreciate it," he said.

Robinson said he is humbled by the honor, and believes the student center is one the students and faculty have deserved for some time.

"Students are the focus of the campus. The student center is the heart of the campus," he said.

Gainesville State president Martha Nesbitt said the project, planned since 2002, is the biggest expansion and renovation the campus has undertaken. She said it’s great to finally see the building used to complement academics.

"What is so important about this building is that it’s for the development of a student," she said. "The classroom is the core of the academics, but this is the extracurricular part that is so important to the collegiate experience."

The campus’ old student center was renovated and a 26,000-square-foot addition built using state funds and student fees. Construction began in October 2007 and was completed a year later. It opened to students in November.

Sophomore Katie Taylor, 20, serves as president of the college’s student government association. She said her favorite feature of the new building is a conference room where students can meet. Before the building was opened in November, she said the association had to make do with whatever classrooms were available during meeting times.

"It’s really changed the feel of the campus," Taylor said. "The student center is truly the heart of life at Gainesville State College."

Nesbitt said the state plans to provide $28 million for a new academic building on the Oakwood campus, where rising student enrollment is outpacing classroom space. She said the cost already has been worked into the state budget and a construction firm for the project could be selected today.

Nesbitt said if the funding comes through, construction on the new classroom and office building could begin in September.