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More details emerge in search for Lanier Tech relocation
List narrowed to 6 sites for new campus
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More details are trickling out about the search for land to relocate Lanier Technical College, with sites now narrowed to six choices within Hall County.

Officials with the school have said the current facilities are outdated and rebuilding at the Oakwood location is unrealistic.

While price is obviously a critical factor in the choice, proximity is just as important, according to those involved in the search, which includes Philip Wilheit, chairman of the Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority, and representatives from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and Lanier Tech.

Land with easy access to Interstate 985 and Ga. 365, as well as the fact that Lanier Tech wants to keep its distance from other technical colleges in neighboring counties, has culled the list from more than 20.

Availability of infrastructure, including access to water, sewer and gas, is also a key component of any decision.

The Times has confirmed the location of three of the six sites being considered.

One site being considered is land in the Chestnut Mountain area offered by Doug Magnus, president and founder of Conditioned Air Systems Inc. in Gainesville.

The land includes 121 acres near Winder Highway east of I-985. The property fronts Ponderosa Farm Road. Magnus owns several properties in that area, and is currently developing the Retreat at Chestnut Mountain, a gated subdivision with 62 lots. 

“I’m not looking to get anything,” he said. “I’m going to gift it.”

Magnus said he purchased the land he is offering for $2.5 million about 10 years ago.

“My intention all along was to develop it,” he added.

And that’s just what he’ll do if his offer is turned down. Magnus has given those involved in the search 90 days to accept his proposal.

The tract is somewhat isolated, however, and consideration is being given to how the school would be accessed if located at this site. 

Former Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said he has assisted Magnus in engaging adjacent property owners about accessing the land from Winder Highway or Ga. 211.

Oliver said a few of these property owners are amenable to working with the Department of Transportation and Lanier Tech to get direct access from these thoroughfares.

“It would make it a very inviting campus,” Oliver said of the site. “I’d like to see it developed ... in a very progressive and quality way.”

Magnus said he believes the state should accept his offer and spend its money on securing an additional entrance off Ponderosa.

“It’s not quite that simple,” Wilheit said, adding that cutting a road to the site would require extensive engineering that could raise costs. “I can’t put a value on the land because of that.”

Another location being considered is a 76-acre tract near the Mundy Mill subdivision, with a proposed entrance off Millside Parkway.

This land is close to the current Lanier Tech campus, and is being offered

for $7.3 million.

According to information obtained by The Times, a $1.3 million letter of credit is being offered by a separate party to reduce the purchase price to $6 million.

Easy access to utilities, retail centers, health care clinics and I-985 make it an ideal location, and would make the transition for students smooth, according to proponents of the site.

Lanier Tech President Ray Perren has said he’d like to have a new campus open to students by the beginning of the fall 2018 academic year.

Perren said he would like to acquire between 65 and 75 acres for a new campus, with specific land needs including connection to sewer and telecommunications infrastructure.

The 2016 fiscal year state budget approved in April includes $10 million in bonds and $865,000 in general funds to purchase property and design a new campus for the school in Hall County.

Gov. Nathan Deal is chairman of the State Properties Commission, which will have to sign off on any land purchase for the college’s relocation.

But consideration of these properties may be moot when all is said and done.

Wilheit confirmed that a 145-acre property near the RaceTrac gas station and convenience store close to exit 24 on I-985 in North Hall is one of the sites also being considered, and speculation has been rampant in recent weeks that this is where Lanier Tech will ultimately end up.

Each piece of land being considered reveals an ongoing competition for business between the south and north end of the counties as new growth emerges.

“We just hate to see things continue to move out of the south end of the county,” said Magnus, adding that he laments the relocation of the poultry lab, for example, from Oakwood to the Gateway Industrial Centre off Ga. 365. 

Though there is no specific timeline, Wilheit said a decision and deal on purchasing land is moving quickly. An evaluation and grading process is underway, and those involved are compiling scores for each property at this time.