After years of planning and weeks of legislative defense for the project, Hinesville will welcome construction of its own four-year university later this year.
The state’s fiscal-year 2014 budget, adopted last week at the tail end of the 2013 General Assembly session, includes a $4.75 million line item for construction of an Armstrong Atlantic State University campus on Hinesville’s Memorial Drive.
The Savannah-based university currently has a Liberty Center, but the expanded campus will allow the school to increase its programs and strengthen its role in the community.
“We are excited about the new opportunities that an expanded Armstrong Liberty Center will allow us to create for the populations of Fort Stewart, Liberty County and the surrounding areas,” university President Dr. Linda Bleicken said.
The current facility will continue to be called the Armstrong Liberty Center, which also is the new building’s name. Once constructed, the center will serve populations within Liberty and surrounding counties, including dual-enrollment high-school students to working adults, military members and their families.
The university plans to expand associate of science degree options in health professions and science and technology at the new Armstrong Liberty Center, and education program offerings also will be expanded.
Georgia Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps on Tuesday provided the Courier with project highlights.
“It will replace a smaller classroom facility located in a declining strip shopping center,” the presentation said.
The campus will be constructed on about 6 acres of land donated by the city on Memorial Drive near Welborn Street and Central Avenue.
It is approximately a half-mile from Fort Stewart and is slated to include a student-resource area, student-success center, study areas and faculty space for advising and tutoring.
The site will support undergraduate coursework and degrees in sciences, math, criminal justice, history, art and economics, according to the Board of Regents information.
Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, spoke recently about the victory in a Liberty County Development Authority meeting. He said other area delegates Sen. Buddy Carter and Rep. Ron Stephens also focused on making the project a priority.
“It’s all a team effort, and I knew that from a political standpoint, the biggest effort I could make was to make sure that the issue stayed in front of the right people,” Williams said.
“This is a great, great addition to Hinesville, Liberty County and to all of this region. As far as I’m concerned, it was the most important local thing we had to do. So vital,” he added.
“We do need it here in Liberty County,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas. “We’ve expended, I believe, $6 million on Memorial Drive, trying to get Memorial Drive to look like downtown.”
Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards touted the economic benefits of the project.
“We are elated,” he said by email. “Having a University System of Georgia presence in the form of AASU within the downtown area will be a catalyst to the desired private sector investment along the Memorial Drive corridor as well as other downtown areas.”
“I’ve said for a long time now that we need an opportunity for our kids to go to college without having to commute or having to leave town,” he added. “We are the only Metropolitan Statistical Area in the state that does not have a permanent University System of Georgia presence, and Fort Stewart is the only military installation in the state that does not have an adjacent permanent USG presence.”
From an immediate perspective, the student presences downtown will spur business opportunities, he added. Longterm, having a workforce with college degrees or technical college training “is so very important to attracting good-paying employers.”
The city also has received a $350,000 commitment from the Georgia Department of Transportation for the Central Avenue realignment project, which is the last phase of the Memorial Drive realignment and is essential to the Armstrong project.
The Pirate campus will not be the only new addition to Memorial Drive, a corridor that has been about 10 years in the making. Across the street from the site, a new Hinesville public library will be constructed, and work is under way for the VA clinic at Memorial and Highway 84.
“We should all extend our appreciation to state Reps. Al Williams and Ron Stephens as well as state Sen. Buddy Carter for the tireless efforts they put forth in securing this project for the people of Liberty County,” Edwards added. “A special thanks should also be extended to Sen. Jack Hill and state Rep. Terry England for their critical support.”