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  • Sincerely, Southern

Status update of Georgia Southern's new convocation center

By Cassandra Buchanan

Georgia Southern University’s new convocation center budget has more than tripled and campus officials anticipate the project to be completed within the year of 2023.

The Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center will be a new addition to the Georgia Southern campus. The center was named in honor of Georgia state Senator, Jack Hill and his wife Ruth Ann Hill.

Jack Hill was a senator for 30 years and was the longest serving Georgia senator before he passed away suddenly in April. Hill has made significant contributions to the expansion and development of several facilities at GS and his wife, Ann, centered her life around public education and retired as the principal of Reidsville Elementary School.

The Board of Regents approved the naming of the building in February.

The Jack and Ruth Hill Convocation Center will be located on the south end of Georgia Southern’s campus at the Lanier Drive and Veterans Memorial Parkway intersection. The center is expected to have a larger capacity than that of Hanner Fieldhouse, as the university would like to use this space for graduation ceremonies, convocation, basketball games, and other assembly events.

“(The convocation center) is a tremendous addition to our Statesboro campus, for our local community, and for our students,” GS President Kyle Marrero said in a press release. “We are grateful to the Governor and the Legislature for supporting this project, which will be a permanent reminder of the generational impact made by Jack and Ruth Ann Hill.”

There is a need for the space on the university’s campus because the repeatedly renovated Hanner Fieldhouse only seats 3,600 guests, which is not enough seating to host such events.

“There is absolutely a need for the center here in our community,” said Becky Davis, the executive director of Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We get requests here all the time to host events, but we don’t necessarily always have the space to house larger group events, so it’ll be good to have that space for our community.”

According to a GS press release, funding for the convocation project is said to come from a combination of state and privately raised funds. Initially, the budget recommendation was to include more than $12 million for construction, but more recently that number has stretched significantly.

Since then, there has been progression in terms of funding details for the convocation center. Marrero was able to further confirm and update the convocation center’s status at the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce “Power Luncheon” that was held on Thursday, April 15.

At the Power Luncheon, Marrero noted that the new convocation center is highlighted as the largest project mentioned for the university. What was first recommended as a $12 million constructruction budget cost, has now increased to a $36.7 million construction cost. $6 million has been readily available to the university for design funds since early July under the fiscal year 2021 budget. However, the $36.7 million for construction is a part of the fiscal year 2022 budget, and was approved by legislature at the end of March. Funding for the construction is in the state budget awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature.

State spending for the new center is projected to be $46 million and the university plans to contribute an additional $10 million from it’s own funds and donations, totaling the cost of the new convocation center at $56 million.

Community members and city officials are in support of the groundbreaking and implementation of this new convocation center after Marerro spoke of the new convocation center at the Power Luncheon.

“I just heard Dr. Marrero talking about the new Convocation Center at GSU at the local Chamber of Commerce Luncheon yesterday,” said Shari Barr, Statesboro city council member. “It sounds like a wonderful facility to come to GSU and Statesboro.”

Final designs and a groundbreaking schedule will be solidified once funding is finalized and secured. The estimated construction time period is 18 months. If all goes as planned, Marrero says he is hopeful that the center could break ground by spring 2022 and the goal would be to open the center in fall of 2023.

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