By Michael Davis
Here they grow again.
The expanding campus of Clayton College & State University, which only this past semester ended a seven-year streak of record enrollment, is eyeing a satellite campus in Henry's southernmost city.
University president Thomas Harden petitioned the state Board of Regents Wednesday to accept a $2.55 million land donation from Locust Grove to expand the university's reach into what he called "underserved" areas south of its main Morrow campus. Locust Grove officials are hoping the system will accept the nearly 200 acres they set aside late last year.
Regents are expected to make a decision on the donation at their meeting next month.
CCSU already has several satellite locations, including Fayetteville, Peachtree City and space in a room behind Locust Grove's city hall.
The city in southern Henry County is willing to put up 197 acres of undeveloped land for a satellite campus in the city Harden said could have up to 4,000 students in 10 years. The Morrow campus is home to 5,904 students now but with the satellite's enrollment, would be home to more than 15,000 by 2015. Harden told Regents the four-year university's enrollment us up 34 percent since 2000.
The campus would offer full academic services, including baccalaureate and graduate programs, Harden said.
"Right now, in our minds, we're thinking of a pretty comprehensive program," Harden said after the presentation.
Locust Grove officials predict the city's population to explode in coming years, turning the sleepy town into a southside powerhouse and making it the perfect place to support a public college.
"The land that is being offered to Clayton State is not going to be available very far in the future," Harden told Regents during his presentation Wednesday.
In addition, the city is willing to put up much of the development cost, said City Manager Rick Jeffares.
Roads, sewer and storm drain infrastructure would all be paid for at city expense, and the city would accept the land back should the plans fall apart. Jeffares said at least one of the roads on the parcel is slated to be paved using funds from the county's 1-cent sales tax.
On Henry's southern horizon
In recent years, Locust Grove has become one of the fastest growing cities in one of the fastest growing counties in the nation.
The city was once home to the now defunct Locust Grove Institute, a military college located in what is now city hall. In January, CCSU began a two-course offering in city hall's community room at the back of the historic building.
As growth has flowed down the I-75 corridor, through Stockbridge and McDonough, Locust Grove has been quietly in the background.
In recent months however, the city has rezoned and annexed land at a rapid rate in preparation for a massive housing boom. By 2010, city officials expect the population to jump by 450 percent in the mostly undeveloped city.
Housing already approved by the city council but not yet built would quadruple the city's housing stock from roughly 1,300 to more than 5,700 - enough to sustain the university, Harden said.
The once mainly farming community has become an attractive location for housing developers with it's mostly open and flat terrain.
Last year, the city traded developer Tanger Partners LLC., which has put up much of the money for the city's new wastewater treatment facility, more than 100 acres of city property further west of the interstate for the 197-acres closer to I-75.
"We did some swapping around to get this property because this is the property is the one they looked at and they liked," said Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey. "With this much land, they can do a lot more than Mercer did," she said, referring to the private, Macon-based university's McDonough campus.
Lindsey said Locust Grove's location, on I-75 and Ga. Highway 42, makes it a very logical and accessible location.
"Being as close to I-75 as we are, we have the opportunity to serve a lot of people," she said.