FORT VALLEY — These days, it’s hard to tell whether Fort Valley State University is adding more students, or more construction projects.
Fort Valley State celebrated the addition of the newest building on campus Tuesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new student amenities center, part of a $12 million project that included a football stadium that opened last year.
The 28,000-square-foot student center features a Chick-fil-A, Quiznos and a bookstore. On the second floor, there is a conference room that can seat 300.
On game days, the conference room can be converted into two skyboxes with balcony access. A nearby room that will become the athletics hall of fame will double as another skybox. Students will also have access to study space there.
At Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, Fort Valley State President Dr. Larry E. Rivers said he was “excited about the growth at the Fort Valley State (University).”
Not only will the new student center serve those enrolled at the school, it, along with other campus resources, will be available to others as well, Rivers said.
“Fort Valley State is open to the community,” he said.
Fort Valley State’s student amenities center is just the latest in a series of new building projects and renovations on campus, and the growth is explosive.
While construction costs totaled $30 million between 1976 and 2006, that figure has climbed to more than $180 million since 2006, said Dwayne Crew, associate director of business and finance.
University officials held another ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Academic Classroom and Laboratory Building on Aug. 6, a project 10 years and more than $16 million in the making. The 63,356 square foot building includes science labs, classrooms, offices and conference rooms.
There are plans to add patio furniture to the balcony, and as well as a pastry and coffee kiosk in the building.
With high ceilings and open spaces, “it becomes a gathering area,” Crew said.
The jump in construction projects coincides with an upward spike in student enrollment in the past few years. Officials have reported a fall enrollment of 4,086 students, climbing about 500 students a year since fall 2006.
To address the needs of the growing student population, Fort Valley State plans to begin building new dormitories on campus within the next year or so, adding 1,000 more beds to its existing 2,001.
Fort Valley State is also renovating other buildings on campus, among the changes: Huntington Hall is being renovated to eventually house the office of the president; Ohio Hall, out of service for 30 years, will become an honors dorm; and Miller Building, which previously housed the school’s science department, will include English and other learning labs.
The school’s mass communications department will soon be relocating to the H.V. Kell building in downtown Fort Valley, and plans are in the works for the future site of a college of business.
Not only does the boost in student enrollment have ramifications for the university, it also affects the surrounding community.
Future student enrollment is projected to reach 8,000 students at Fort Valley State by 2018. Crew predicts they may reach that number three years earlier.
That growth will attract more businesses to the area, with companies already expressing interest in setting up shop nearby, according to Crew.
“The area is about to be transformed into an economic powerhouse,” Crew said.
The student presence will also affect the existing infrastructure of Fort Valley and Peach County.
The university has begun to work with the Fort Valley Utility Commission and the Peach County Commissioners to develop plans for expanding water and sewage services, impacting Fort Valley State and surrounding neighborhoods.
“When you’re looking at that many more, you’re looking at another Fort Valley,” said Ned Watson, general manager for the Fort Valley Utility Commission. “From a utility provider standpoint, we need to make plans now.”
The potential growth of Fort Valley State spills over into the larger Fort Valley and Peach County community, said Marcia Johnson, county administrator with the Peach County Commissioners.
“The university is such a large resource,” said Johnson. “It’s a large employer. It increases the population vastly when students are in session. It sets the groundwork for us to be able to grow. If the university is successful, it adds to county and city success.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.