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UNG breaks ground on new convocation center in Dahlonega
University System of Georgia Regent Philip Wilheit, left, speaks to Chancellor Hank Huckaby and University of North Georgia Foundation trustee Wayne Dill. - photo by Kristen Oliver

With exceptional growth following its consolidation three years ago, the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus needs a new, multipurpose event center.

And after years of effort, it is finally getting one.

UNG officials and stakeholders broke ground Friday afternoon on a long-awaited convocation center at the Dahlonega campus.

“This is a project literally decades in the making that will impact students, student athletes and citizens of the North Georgia region for decades in the future,” said Mac McConnell, UNG's senior vice president for business and finance.

McConnell said the facility will replace the smaller, outdated Memorial Hall as UNG’s primary event center when it opens in 2018.

Memorial Hall was constructed in 1960 with a fixed seating capacity of 1,049, he said. Enrollment at then-North Georgia College was only 794 students. Today, the Dahlonega campus alone has more than 7,000 students enrolled.

“The new convocation center will be a 103,000-square-foot facility with a seating capacity of approximately 3,600,” McConnell said. “It will support several hundred events and activities each year.”

The convocation center will be located in the southwest portion of the campus, just off Morrison Moore Parkway.

It will boast a 38,600-square-foot concourse entry level, which will surround and overlook the event area, providing views of the activity below, according to a release from the university.

From the concourse level, guests will be able go down into the nearly 57,000-square-foot event level of the convocation center, which will include both fixed and collapsible seating in the main event area and several classrooms, labs and dressing rooms.

A third, lower level of the facility includes about 7,000 square feet of faculty offices and storage space.

“To say that we are pleased with this project is a huge understatement,” UNG President Bonita Jacobs said. “The convocation center will have a tremendous impact on our campus. It of course will give us a much-needed space for a number of reasons, but at the end of the day, it’s about students. And this will help us with our students’ success and our students’ satisfaction.”

The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved plans for the Convocation Center in 2014.

With leadership from Sen. Steve Gooch and Rep. Kevin Tanner, UNG received $3.5 million last year in funding support from the state for planning and design and $29.3 million in construction funding this year.

“The project itself was so legitimate, so needed, that all of us were committed to finding a way to make it happen,” said University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “I don’t think we yet realize what an impact this facility will have on this campus and on this community. It will be its signature building.”

Additional private funding is also being sought for the center. Jeffrey Tarnowski, UNG's vice president for advancement, said in a release that $2.5 million is still needed for the athletics areas of the convocation center.

“It’s been a long, hard battle,” said Philip Wilheit, regent with the University System of Georgia. “It was a great project from the very beginning, but so many variables can play into making something like this happen. Finally, the stars lined up for us, and we’re here.”