In an effort to meet the needs of a growing regional university, construction crews are building a convocation center on the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus.
In an effort to meet the needs of a growing regional university, construction crews are building a convocation center on the University of North Georgia's Dahlonega campus. The new facility will replace the smaller, outdated Memorial Hall as the university's primary event center.
“UNG's Memorial Hall was constructed in 1960 with a fixed-seating capacity of 1,049,” said Kate Maine, UNG associate vice president of university relations. “At that time, enrollment at UNG's Dahlonega campus was only 794 students. Today, UNG serves a growing enrollment of more than 18,000 students across five campuses, and is one of the state's largest public universities. Enrollment on UNG's Dahlonega campus alone has increased to more than 7,000 students.”
The University of North Georgia was formed through the consolidation of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College, two of the top-performing schools in the university system of Georgia. The transition in 2013 has resulted in a significantly larger student population and increased need for large-scale space for academic, athletic and student life events. Maine said throughout the school, anticipation is high regarding the new project.
“Students are excited about opportunities the new convocation center will bring. With spaces for large-scale student events currently very limited, the convocation center will become the new focal point for student life at UNG.”
The university carries the distinction of The Military College of Georgia, with its Army ROTC program attracting students from across the country. The new convocation center will have special significance for those enrolled in the Georgia Army National Guard detachment on UNG's Dahlonega campus.
“In addition to supporting the needs of typical universities, this new facility is critical to UNG's role as one of only six senior military colleges in the United States,” said Maine. “UNG's Corps of Cadets is composed of nearly 750 students, and there are more than 150 active students in the Georgia Army National Guard detachment on UNG's Dahlonega campus. These groups need expanded space to meet their training and assembly needs.”
The structure also will be helpful in recruiting potential students to the university.
“Most universities around the state already have similar facilities, so this new convocation center is a long overdue addition to UNG's Dahlonega Campus. We anticipate that it will draw visitors from around the country to various events, and that it will become a signature facility for the campus and the community,” Maine said.
In June 2016, UNG broke ground on the event center, with site work beginning in October.
“We're really excited about the new convocation center for UNG, as it will be a transformational facility for UNG,” said Mac McConnell, UNG's senior vice president of business and finance. “With a seating capacity of up to 3,600, the new, multifunction building will fill the needs of our growing institution much better than the 56-year-old Memorial Hall. It also will be easily accessed from the Morrison Moore Parkway to serve the north Georgia region.”
Memorial Hall hosts more than 500 events and activities each year. The new convocation center, located in the southwest zone of the Dahlonega Campus, will serve academic courses, physical training activities and athletic events. The 103,000-sq. ft. (9,569 sq m) facility also will have several classrooms and faculty offices.
The 38,600-sq. ft. (3,586 sq m) concourse level overlooks the event area. The concourse level will include several of the facility's classrooms and multipurpose areas.
From the concourse level, guests will make their way into the roughly 57,000-sq. ft. (5,295 sq m) event level of the convocation center, which will include fixed and collapsible seating in the main event area and several classrooms, labs and dressing rooms.
A third, lower level of the facility includes slightly under 7,000 sq. ft. (650 sq m) of faculty offices and storage space. On the exterior, plans include both entry and student plazas and landscaping and walkways to connect the facility to the nearby UNG Alumni House and parking areas.
The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia approved plans for the convocation center in 2014. In 2015, the school received $3.5 million from the state legislature for planning and design, and $29 million in construction funding this year. Additional private funding also is being sought for the new facility. The money is needed for the athletics areas of the convocation center.
“While we are thrilled and honored to have this incredible facility coming to our campus, we also know that private and corporate support is going to be imperative if we are going to have full use of it for our athletic teams,” said Jeffrey Tarnowski, UNG's vice president of advancement. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to raise $2.5 million through the help of UNG's dedicated alumni and supporters, whose love, pride and passion for this institution are second to none.”
The new structure is being built on property that served as a student parking lot. To date, weather has not delayed the project. Still, a great deal of work on the project remains.
“Currently, we are clearing the site and getting the grade sufficient to start foundations,” said Ken Crowe, UNG director of planning, design and construction. “The project schedule has two component change orders prior to receipt of 100 percent design document. The first is for site clearing and utilities, and the second is for steel procurement and foundations.
“The critical path of the project is dependent on the schedule for foundation and concrete forming. After that, steel erection and exterior walls will occur simultaneously”.
Crowe said the biggest challenge to date has been keeping the project in budget.
“The construction costs were estimated years prior to funding being received, and that creates a challenge to program a space at current costs.”
Crowe said special steps had to be taken during clearing efforts, due to the project's close proximity to a public cemetery. Crews used extreme care before excavating to ensure no unmarked remains were present by hiring an archaeologist and using ground penetrating radar.
He also said working in a school environment with students in the area is another concern.
“Extra awareness of safety is a must when working around student housing. Also, creating and maintaining an active construction site in the midst of student vehicular parking requires added prudence and care.”
“To date, getting full construction documents completed to keep work moving on the site has been a great challenge. Utilizing the Construction Manager At Risk delivery method, construction was able to start before the completion of full structural and building drawings, to meet a very aggressive schedule.”
Main equipment being used on the job includes excavators, dump trucks and bulldozers. The structure is predominately concrete with steel roof trusses. The concourse level, featuring classrooms and multipurpose areas, will be an elevated concrete slab. The event level of the convocation center will include fixed and collapsible seating in the main event area and several classrooms, labs and dressing rooms. Fixed seating will be installed on a concrete structure, while the collapsible is a mechanic unit provided by the seating manufacturer.
According to Crowe, the renovation of Memorial Hall will require the demolition of an existing stage, in order to make way for required restroom facilities.
“All classrooms will receive aesthetic and technology upgrades to enhance the student experience. Additional study areas will be provided, as well. The elevator will connect the existing three floors of the building, and will be enclosed within the gymnasium area. Cladding for the elevator enclosure will be repurposed from the flooring of the removed stage area to create a link between the past and present.”
The creative team of Lord Aeck Sargent + ROSSETTI had a clear vision for the project.
“The university wanted a building that fit into the overall campus architectural context, but made a unique statement at the same time,” said Joe Greco, Lord Aeck Sargent design principal who's led the design of several other projects on campus. “We accomplished the contextual goal by moving the very large building close to major student pedestrian paths and the adjacent buildings, breaking down the overall massing, and using materials like blended red brick and clear glass found on many other campus buildings.
“For the unique statement goal, we explored several distinctive roof forms over the multipurpose event space. The university preferred one of the alternatives that used a gentle curve with clerestory glazing on the north and south ends. This roof form is a nod to the beautiful surrounding mountains of north Georgia.”
Jerry Attia, AIA, principal, ROSSETTI, said, “It was a great collaboration working closely with Lord Aeck Sargent. It gave us an opportunity to focus on the needs of the students, cadets and student athletes' experiences. We worked hard to create a building which is both flexible and dynamic, and that meets the needs of different types of events.
“The open concourse and retractable stadia are important elements which seek to create the most flexible building possible. The open concourse provides glimpses into the arena floor, while also connecting divergent spaces. The building has the potential to be flexible for all sorts of collegiate activities, yet equally intense for sporting events.”
Attia noted the biggest challenges involved finding a space and cost-efficient design that provided the long-term flexibility UNG mandated.
“Both the overall size limit of 104,000 gross feet and the construction budget of approximately $282/gross square feet were aggressive goals that the design team met by continuous collaboration with UNG, construction manager Juneau Construction Company and the consulting program manager Jones Lang LaSalle.”
According to John Starr, project principal of Lord Aeck Sargent, the building's overall goal was to support the academic mission of UNG by providing new classrooms, teaching labs and faculty offices in addition to a flexible event space capable of seating up to roughly 4,000 people. The project also included a renovation of classrooms and public space in the current academic and sports facility Memorial Hall.
Jim Renne, sports design principal of ROSSETTI, said the flexible event space can host a range of daily activities and special events, including academic classes, sports practices, corps of cadets parades, graduation ceremonies, concerts, banquets, continuing education and sports events.
The architectural style is described as contextual modern and forward looking to the campus needs of the 21st century. At the same time, by using materials, massing and window patterns that are informed by other campus buildings, the convocation center seeks to complement the existing campus architecture.
The primary exterior materials are blended red brick, clear glazing, tan ground face concrete masonry and gray metal panels. The new structure is a combination of cast in place concrete with structural steel and metal deck for the roofs. Interior materials were selected to create a warm, neutral palette with splashes of color in the convocation hall seating and changeable elements, including sports banners.
Sustainable design also was a key goal for the project. The building is designed to meet Georgia's Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Construction Act of 2008. For this project, the firms employed several best practices, including minimizing site disturbance, selecting local and regional materials, using energy efficient systems with all LED lighting, using low flow plumbing fixtures and commissioning the MEP systems before occupancy.
“Lord Aeck Sargent + ROSSETTI hopes the convocation center will host classes and events that are meaningful and memorable to the millions of students, faculty and community members who will use the center after it's completed in early 2018,” said Starr. —CEG