FORSYTH — After a $45 million face-lift and four years of planning, employees of the Georgia Department of Corrections are moving into the old Tift College campus.
Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens said between 400 and 450 employees will be boxing up their offices and moving into their new work space in the coming weeks.
The move is scheduled to be complete by mid-November, said Peggy Chapman, a department spokeswoman.
The state corrections academy was the first to make the move in fall 2009.
Owens said the move will consolidate five Department of Corrections locations now in Atlanta and free up space in a state office building in Atlanta.
The move also is expected to shorten employees’ commutes and eventually make a change in the composition of the department’s work force, he said.
“I think it’s really a culture change for our organization,” Owens said.
With the department being located in Forsyth, employees no longer will be forced to commute into downtown Atlanta. Instead, they can drive against traffic during rush hour as they make their way south to Forsyth.
Since the move was announced in 2006, many employees already have moved south of Atlanta. Some employees have left the department for other jobs, he said.
Through attrition and replacement of staff, more and more employees are being hired who live on the south side of Atlanta, he said.
Owens said he hopes the move eventually also will help shift the department’s work force to include more people who have worked in probation offices and prisons. As the department staff is composed now, nine of 10 employees have never worked in probation offices or prisons.
Owens said the department made it a priority to preserve the historic look of the 43-acre campus that’s visible from Interstate 75.
“The intent is to rehab the exteriors to the best they ever looked,” he said.
While the buildings’ interiors have been renovated to 2010 standards, some of the original doors, chandeliers and windows remain.
Owens said the department plans to re-erect a replica of the campus’ bell tower on the original foundation and to keep the water tower.
State inmates were used for much of the construction, but outside crews also have been used for the more difficult portions of the renovation work, he said.
Virtually all the furniture for the complex was built by inmates, including the handmade cherry pieces in the executive suites.
Tift alumna Nell Bowen, 81, said it’s good to see the college being used again.
She described the campus closing as being like “a death” because of how closely her family had been tied to the school. Her mother graduated in 1921, and Bowen graduated in 1949, the year the college celebrated its centennial. Her husband headed the college’s religion department from 1952 until 1980 and her daughter attended classes in 1974 and 1975.
“I’m just thrilled to death that there’s training there again and there’s life on campus,” Bowen said. “It’s a landmark.”
Owens said meeting space will be available for the community, and parts of the grounds will be open to the public.
Tift College opened in 1849 as a women’s college and closed in 1987. It was later purchased by the Monroe County Commission and then by the state.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.