Institute back open for business?

By Michael Davis

It hasn't been used as a school in more than 70 years, but the home of what used to be the Locust Grove Institute will soon be back in the education business.

Clayton College & State University will begin offering night classes at Locust Grove City Hall as soon as January, school officials said.

The classes would be limited at first but university officials hope to grow the program over time. The city council earlier this month gave the school tentative permission to use the Community Room, a large, open space in the back of city hall to help establish the school's ties to Locust Grove.

"It has been my job to follow up on the initial work of our President Dr. (Thomas) Harden and Provost Dr. (Sharon) Hoffman to spearhead an effort to establish a new satellite center in Locust Grove," said Clayton State's Director of Academic Outreach, Dr. Mannie Hall.

The two offerings will be a beginning math course and a beginning critical thinking course, Hall said. Both are part of the school's core curriculum and will likely attract freshman students.

"We are also willing to explore workforce and continuing education populations, which will possibly attract more industry to Henry County and better serve, or educate, the existing industries," he said.

Locust Grove Institute was built in 1894 and opened with 13 students and two instructors, according to a chamber of commerce publication. It was closed in the early 1930s and a few years later, reopened as Locust Grove City Hall.

They felt like if they could just get a temporary place to house some classes, they could feel Locust Grove out,? said Mayor Lorene Lindsey.

?I think in Locust Grove, the way we?re situated, we?re right in the middle of the surrounding counties,? she said. Indeed, the city borders Butts County and is only minutes away from Spalding County.

The nearest institute of higher learning for Henry?s southern-most city is CCSU?s Morrow campus. The next closest, besides Atlanta colleges, are Gordon College in Barnesville and Georgia College in Milledgeville.

Hall said the university, for now, will only offer the core classes but hopes to expand in Locust Grove in the future. ?At first we are going to focus on offering core academic courses, although our goal in the future is to be able to offer an entire degree track and maybe even some graduate courses when we make that transition,? he said.

The city has already taken steps that may help make that transition a reality.

Executing a land swap with prominent developer Tanger Partners, LLC., the city gave the group more than 120 acres of land that had been part of the city?s land application system, or sewerage spray field, in exchange for 190 acres they had under contract closer to the interstate.

?There may be some use for that should we have a favorable decision from the board of regents regarding locating a campus here,? city attorney Andy Welch told the council Nov. 1.

Tanger Partners had been hoping to develop a large residential subdivision on that property and more.

The subdivision will go ahead, albeit elsewhere, but with state education budget shortages, it is not clear if or when the state education officials will give approval for any large-scale building projects.

In October, the regents narrowly escaped the threat of a mid-year tuition hike by freeing up some $68 million to offset state budget cuts.

But for now, the night classes are a go in the city?s hall, which is under renovation.

In the past year, the city has spent thousands in upgrades and improvements to the building. Fresh paint and new floors allow for the expansion of city offices in space that was previously underutilized.

Clayton State?s Hall said the university may work with the city to secure grants to allow access via elevator to the building?s upstairs auditorium, which is one of the last areas city officials hope to restore to the way it was.

The auditorium, he said, would be an ideal location for theater classes.