University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby, from left, Clayton State University President Tim Hynes and Gov. Nathan Deal share a laugh during the ground breaking ceremony for the university’s new science building Thursday (Staff Photo: Curt Yeomans)
MORROW — Clayton State University President Tim Hynes was giddy Thursday as he got to break ground on a 64,600-square-foot science building that the school has been pursuing for about 10 years.
Hynes was joined by University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby and Gov. Nathan Deal for the groundbreaking. The building, according to university officials, will eliminate waiting lists for students seeking to take required laboratory classes while also expanding opportunities for undergraduate research.
After a long fight, Hynes was finally able to secure the $19.8 million needed to build the facility in this year’s state budget.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” Hynes said. “What can I say?”
But, Hynes and other Clayton State officials got an extra reason to be jubilant over the new facility when Deal took to the podium and made an unexpected announcement concerning possible additional funding for the building.
“A building with nothing in it doesn’t stand the test of being ready to educate children, so today I am telling you that I am including, in my next year’s budget, $2.9 million to equip this new building,” Deal said.
That elicited cheers and applause from attendees at the groundbreaking. It also prompted extra appreciation from university officials after the ceremony ended.
“We’re very grateful for that,” Hynes said.
A commitment to STEM education
The new science facility is scheduled to open in fall 2015 with eight instructional labs and eight research labs. It will bring Clayton State’s total laboratory inventory to 19 instructional labs and nine research labs. It will also have two 64-seat classrooms and three 36-seat classrooms, according to statistics provided by the school.
Clayton State Department of Natural Science Chairwoman Michelle Furlong said the university will be able to grow its undergraduate research program because of the new building. She said as many as 80 percent of science professors at the university sponsor research projects conducted by undergraduate students.
She said it is not common to see a university offer such a program. However, she said Clayton State offers it so students will be familiar with the proper way to do scientific research when they graduate.
The problem with growing that program is that the university only has one research lab at this time.
“We’re trying to do it now, and we’re doing it pretty well, but we can’t really support it well enough in the facilities we have,” she said.
As for whether the $2.9 million Deal pledged to give the university to equip the building would be enough money, Furlong said, “We’ll make it enough.”
Hynes said the extra lab space will help students graduate faster from the university. He said that will help in several areas related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, such as nursing, health care management and scientific enterprise.
“It creates what we believe is, in general terms, the ability for us to contribute to the workforce needs of Georgia in areas such as health care and transportation,” Hynes said. “Indirectly, in general terms, it supports all of our goals of having a more educated Georgia.”
The university had gotten to the point where it had waiting lists of students who had to wait for space to open up in laboratory classes so they could take those courses. Furlong said there were about 200 students on waiting lists for science classes last semester.
Hynes said the addition of a laboratory annex building in 2011 helped ease that backlog, but he added the need was creeping back up and even that facility wouldn’t have been enough. However, a new science building would help tremendously, he said.
“We’re pretty sure that we’ll have it nipped in the bud by the time this new facility is done,” Hynes said.
While the direct impact will be the elimination of waiting lists at the university, Deal said the funding and construction of the facility should also send a message that Georgia is serious about supporting STEM education at all school levels.
“It’s a further indication that we are not only talking about STEM education, but that we’re actually putting money into making sure it becomes a reality,” Deal said.
The governor added that while money has been tight in recent years, the need for the science building was justified and a high priority for the university system’s Board of Regents.
He said it should be a “calling card” that can allow Clayton State to continue growing by attracting high quality students. Enrollment at the Morrow-based school has increased from 4,675 students to 7,200 students since 2001.
“I think it will lay a great foundation for continuing to educate students in those very important areas,” Deal said. “We all know those jobs of the future are going to, in many instances, require degrees and backgrounds in the kinds of subjects that will be taught here in this facility.”
Huckaby said he was pleased to hear the governor announce a dollar amount Deal plans to set aside to furnish the building because it gives him an idea of what the university system will have to work with when he sits down to look at equipment purchases for the facility. He also said it’s proof that the state is committed to STEM education.
“This will make an impact on this campus,” Huckaby said. “It will make an impact on this whole part of Georgia, and I’m delighted that the faculty will be able to look forward in realistic terms and in a realistic time frame to when they can enter this building to begin their teaching, but more importantly looking forward to the impact it will have on their students.”
And because of the impact it will have on STEM education, Deal said the university and the state have both won by getting the science building funded.
“This is not only a great day for Clayton State University, it’s a great day for Georgia,” Deal said.