FVSU holds town hall meeting to discuss its map to future

FORT VALLEY — Fort Valley State University already has three major construction projects in the works with a highly anticipated $20 million football stadium and student center, an $18 million academic classroom and laboratory building and a $750,000 facility to house animals for emergencies.

FVSU already has received approval and funding for a $3.1 million biotechnology building, a $911,000 agricultural pavilion and arena, a $2.5 million family development center and a $1.2 million child development center.

The university also is looking to submit proposals for a college of business administration as well as a college of nursing.

“Things are growing at Fort Valley State University and we want the community to be a part of this process,” FVSU president Larry Rivers said.

To that end, a town hall meeting held Tuesday was an effort to inform the community about the university’s present and its future regarding academic programs, fundraising, community outreach and capital projects. For nearly two hours, government officials, business owners and community leaders listened to a presentation on the growth of FVSU. In fall 2009, the university anticipates 4,000 students descending on its campus, which would be nearly 1,000 more than its fall 2008 enrollment of 3,106. In fall 2010, the number is expected to jump to 5,000 students.

Those students are going to become a part of the Fort Valley community and Rivers and the other university officials drove home the fact that students impact the local economy.

Joy Moten-Thomas, the university’s public service center director, pointed out a couple of ways the university has reached out to benefit the community and university students.

One way is through the Rural Business Outreach Initiative where the university provides various services to rural businesses to help them become successful.

“We need to empower our rural entrepreneurs to create businesses that will in turn create jobs,” Moten-Thomas said.

The university has also taken on a neighborhood revitalization and stabilization initiative targeting substandard and dilapidated homes in the State University Drive area. The initiative focused on rehabilitating and condemning those homes through a $500,000 grant. Nine properties along State University Drive and five properties along Pine Street have been demolished.

“We didn’t want (parents and students) to think the neighborhood was scary,” Moten-Thomas said. “We wanted them to have good feelings as they descended on the campus.”

And the university is trying to use the campus as a way to attract business to town. Isaac Crumbly, the university’s vice president of collaborative programs, told the crowd about plans to use 250 acres of the university’s land for a 36-hole golf course, a nine-hole par-3 course and a clubhouse. Another five acres would be used for a hotel and convention center. The facilities would serve as a training ground for students in golf management, hospitality and turf majors. Crumbly said the endeavor would require investment from private and government entities.

However, with the many events that come to the Middle Georgia area, he said success is likely.

“We feel we would certainly have this facility filled at all times,” Crumbly said.

Crumbly was the last one to speak before community representatives were able to comment and ask questions.

Fort Valley Mayor John Stumbo emphasized the importance of the university to the community and called on those in attendance to contribute to the university’s scholarship fund.

With that money, he said, the university can provide the financial aid to attract more students.

“As the university grows, so does Fort Valley,” Stumbo said.

Peach County Commissioner Michael Dinkins said FVSU is a critical component in ensuring that both ends of Peach County develop economically and that it can only do so with support.

“Our economic footprint has to be that we are trying to help each other and that growth on both sides of the county is consistent.”

Local pastor K. Daniel Dawsey said the presentation provided an opportunity for the business people in the room as well as people like himself.

“They say new people are coming,” Dawsey said. “I’m sitting here thinking how am I going to get some of these new people to come to my church?”

Some of the business owners in attendance were concerned about the students embracing the community and shopping local.

Juone Browne-Johnson, faculty senate president, said the business community must also embrace the students and pointed out the need for the city to feel like a college town. She said it could be done through promoting the university and its students.

“We need to begin to think of the students as shoppers.”

To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.