Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal — along with Armstrong State University President Dr. Linda Bleicken and other city, county and state officials — broke ground Wednesday at the site of Armstrong’s future Liberty Center campus.
Although Armstrong has operated a satellite campus in Hinesville since 1997, the new and improved Liberty Center will provide more educational opportunities for Liberty County-based students.
“The Liberty Center provides not only active-duty soldiers and their families, but also thousands of veterans in our area the opportunity to gain a higher education,” Bleicken said. “In fact, the Liberty Center … is the fastest-growing part of our campus.”
She said that the Liberty Center’s enrollment has increased by 20 percent per year over the past four semesters, and is projected to grow another 20 percent in the coming year.
Among the hundreds in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony were local civic leaders, military personnel from Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and state officials, as well as University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank M. Huckaby, who addressed the crowd.
“Undoubtedly, this facility will make a major impact on not only this area of the state, but the state at-large,” he said.
Huckaby expressed his pleasure with the spirit of partnership demonstrated in bringing the project to fruition.
“From the city, which is providing this great location for us, to the work with the legislature — I cannot tell you how important it is to work with people like (state Sen.) Jack Hill,” he said.
Huckaby’s sentiments were echoed by all of the ceremony speakers, which included Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway; Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas; Maj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, adjutant general of the Georgia National Guard; Bleicken; Huckaby; Hill; and Deal.
“This is the culmination of a lot of years of work,” Thomas said. “I see three former mayors out here that all started this project, and I’m the lucky one that gets to open it up here today.”
Hill gave special recognition to Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, for his role in garnering support for the project from Chatham County, which Hill said demonstrated “how wide the net cast of advocates for this facility.”
Deal emphasized the role the new campus will play not only in educating Liberty Countians, but also in demonstrating the military friendliness of the state and the local community — something he said will be crucial in keeping Fort Stewart open if base realignment and closure, or BRAC, happens in the future.
“I am afraid that we are seeing forces that are mounting in this country for another round of the dreaded word BRAC,” Deal said. “I am one of those that believes that would be a terrible mistake, but if it were to come, then we need to be as prepared as possible.”
Deal also mentioned a few of the military-focused programs that the Liberty Center will continue to offer, such as the “Go Back, Get Ahead” program, which helps students who may have left college before completion to join the military or the work force.
“To have the presence of a college in a community that is adjacent to a military installation such as Fort Stewart has always been a great asset,” Deal said. “(Armstrong’s Liberty Center) is primarily focused on the so-called ‘non-traditional student’ — that is, someone who is probably a little older, someone who may be already on active duty with the military.
“Some may be retirees, are going back to get certifications and, hopefully, degrees,” he continued. “But it will also facilitate students in the high schools here to be able to take advanced placement classes and to actually get credit in a dual-enrollment situation.”
The Liberty Center currently operates out of a leased commercial space on East Gen. Stewart Way. According to the ceremony’s program, the new, 21,000 square-foot facility will include classrooms, science labs, faculty and staff offices, common areas, student services and support areas.
The new Liberty Center is slated for completion next summer.