Building Initiative Making Over Georgia Tech, Downtown Atlanta

Mon December 08, 2003 - National Edition

ATLANTA (AP) Students returning to Georgia Tech this fall found a half-billion dollars worth of labs, classrooms and other buildings that weren’t there when classes started in 2002.

One-sixth of all space in use at the college this fall is new, in what university officials call the biggest higher-education building boom in the United States. In the next few years, the price tag on construction projects at Tech is expected to near $1 billion.

It’s a push leaders hope will put the downtown Atlanta school among the world’s technology and engineering elite and help them recruit the top tier of faculty and students.

“People at that level don’t move for pretty window dressings; they move for facilities that will help them push the frontiers,” said Gary Schuster, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Sciences.

The growth is part of a strategic plan hatched by President Wayne Clough and other leaders. Georgia Tech is already respected in engineering and research circles, they say. But they want the school’s name mentioned in the same breath as the most-respected institutions in the world.

“People always use the names MIT, Stanford and Harvard; everyone associates those names with the highest quality,” said Bob Thompson, vice president of administration and finance. “That’s what we desire to do here at Georgia Tech.”

Perhaps the most visible construction on campus is the $256 million Technology Square development. The university partnered with Atlanta city government and private businesses to turn a once-dilapidated part of downtown into a mixed-use area that combines classrooms and labs with retail shops and office space. There’s also a new hotel, a bookstore, a parking garage, a recreation center and a natural gas-powered trolley –– all part of the school’s effort to improve life outside of the classroom.

“When we first came here, Georgia Tech was fundamentally an island,” Thompson said.

But the main focus remains on research and instruction.

Two new research and academic buildings were added to the school’s Life Sciences and Technology complex, at a cost of $81 million. A third is on the way.