Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center entrance rendering.
With final budget approval from the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents, Georgia Southern University has completed planning of its new, spacious convocation center. With the financing in place, the Statesboro school is moving forward with the facility's development.
A groundbreaking ceremony is set for May 26 to construct the 95,000-sq.-ft. complex, the university announced in an April 26 press release.
The Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center will be the largest event venue space between Savannah and Macon when construction is finished in spring 2024. It is named in honor of the late State Sen. Jack Hill and his wife of 46 years, Ruth Ann Hill. Both were Georgia Southern graduates.
The convocation center's total construction cost is estimated at just a little more than $50 million, while the total project budget is set at $64.46 million. Funding for the project comes from a combination of state and privately raised funds.
Some site work has already begun but construction will not begin in earnest until this fall, the university noted.
Serving as the signature building on Georgia Southern's South campus, it will be located on university-owned property on the southwest side of the intersection of Lanier Drive and Veterans Memorial Parkway (US Highway 301 Bypass).
"We are excited to finally be planning for the construction phase of this project," Georgia Southern President Kyle Marrero explained in the news release. "This center will have a tremendous impact on Statesboro, this region and our students. I am grateful to the governor and the Legislature for supporting this project."
Georgia Southern has more than 27,000 students that attend the school, including at the main Statesboro campus, and at satellite facilities in Savannah and Hinesville.
Big Events, Classroom Space Planned for Hill Center
The multi-story Hill Center complex has been designed to fill two vital Georgia Southern needs:
- A multipurpose arena that can be utilized for large-scale events such as commencement ceremonies, speakers, concerts, job fairs, and other university and community assemblies. The arena also will be the new home court for Georgia Southern Eagles NCAA basketball games.
- Approximately 7,000 sq. ft. of added instructional space for the Waters College of Health Professions, specifically for the sports and exercise psychology and sports management programs.
The academic space expansion is needed to keep up with enrollment in the Waters College of Health Professions, which grew from 5,085 students in 2018 to 5,656 in 2021, and to support Georgia Southern's commitment to expand its nursing program by 30 percent over the next five years.
"We need the additional space to house growing programs within the college that will complement the Health Professions Academic Building on the Armstrong Campus in Savannah," Marrero said. "This center will be busy almost every day of the year. The collaboration across several internal and external constituent groups through the design and planning process has resulted in a state-of-the-art facility that further positions Georgia Southern University as a leader in higher education."
For convocations, graduation ceremonies and other events that use the floor, the Hill Center occupancy will top out at almost 5,900. For athletic events and basketball games, the arena will seat approximately 5,500 spectators.
The Hill Center also will include full office suites and locker rooms for Georgia Southern's men's and women's basketball teams.
"The Jack and Ruth Ann Hill Convocation Center is a true game-changer for Georgia Southern University, the Statesboro community and Southeast Georgia," said Director of Athletics Jared Benko in the college's statement. "Our men's and women's basketball teams will transition to the facility full-time upon its opening. With new locker rooms, team spaces, training rooms, a strength and conditioning area, and fueling stations coming on board, it will create a best-in-class student-athlete experience. We are also excited to partner with the faculty and staff in the Waters College of Health Professionals on new projects and initiatives."
Putting academic spaces under the same roof at the multi-purpose event venue allows for better cooperation across disciplines, the school noted, while offering students hands-on learning opportunities. In addition, the new complex will support student-athletes and members of the Statesboro community through the university's own health and rehabilitation programs.
Southeast Georgia Well Served by Couple
Georgia Southern's new convocation center is named for Sen. Jack Hill (Class of 1966), who was the longest-serving Georgia senator when he died in April 2020. In his 30 years in the state senate, he served as chair of several crucial committees, including Appropriations, which has broad authority over legislation involving budgeting and spending state and federal funds.
With his support, Georgia Southern reached new heights as an institution serving the southeast region of Georgia. He also was instrumental in helping the university expand its programs and build several new ultramodern facilities, including the Engineering and Research Building, which opened for classes in January 2021.
Ruth Ann Hill, Sen. Hill's wife of 48 years, focused her life on public education and retired as principal of Reidsville Elementary School in Tattnall County. She was a triple Eagle, the university noted, earning degrees from Georgia Southern in 1973, 1990 and 1991.
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