Construction has begun on the Brenau University Gainesville campus on a more than $6.5 million project to replace several decades-old buildings with four new sorority houses and an additional residence hall. Following work earlier to replace an outdated power grid and to remove recyclable materials from structures that will be replaced, heavy equipment moved into the former Sorority Circle area of the campus and began site preparation for the new Sorority Row on Aug. 1.
The construction and some proposed renovations are all part of an initiative to improve the quality of the residential experience for students at the university’s 135-year-old Women’s College.
The four new two-story sorority houses will each accommodate 17 students, and a three-story residence hall for between 70 and 90 students.
“Brenau University is committed to making the Women’s College experience the best that it can be,” said Brenau President Ed Schrader. “Residence life and Greek life have been an essential part of that experience throughout Brenau’s 135-year history.”
The nearly 900-student Women’s College, which began in 1878 as the Georgia Baptist Female Seminary, represents almost a third of the total student body of the university. Brenau also offers coeducational undergraduate and graduate programs on campus and online, but the Women’s College is the only residential part of the institution.
Brenau is also the only women’s college in the United States that has dedicated houses for national sororities. All of its six National Panhellenic Conference sorority chapters have marked 100th anniversary milestones on the campus. Brenau is also home to two chapters from historically black National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc., sororities: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
The construction project has been in the planning stages for some time. Although the university will continue soliciting financial support from individuals, organizations and others to pay for the project, the university’s Board of Trustees on March 28 authorized bonds to proceed with the project now.
“The conditions were favorable, economically and logistically,” said Schrader. “We are riding a crest of Women’s College enrollment right now. Each year’s freshman class is larger than the last, and we are running out of residence space. Instead of trying to rebuild old things, which would actually cost more, we decided, ‘Why not build some new facilities?’”
The new construction, which will occur in stages over the next 16 months, will cost about $6.5 million – $3.2 million for the four new sorority houses and $3.3 million for the general residence hall. In addition to new construction, the project involves demolishing some old sorority houses and residence halls as well as smaller buildings that are no longer serviceable.
The bulk of the project on the 55-acre campus in the historic section of Gainesville will occur along Prior Street, a public thoroughfare that runs south to north through the back portion of the campus. Shortly after the end of the spring semester, contractors will raze the residence hall at 225 Prior St., another building next door that formerly housed the university Learning Center, and two sorority houses – Zeta Tau Alpha and Alpha Chi Omega.
Students who live in those facilities now who return for the fall semester will be temporarily moved to other residences. That includes members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which does not have a dedicated house. Its members are grouped together in the 225 Prior St. residence hall, which will be demolished.
Once demolition of the first two houses is complete, the plan calls for construction of the four new sorority houses for Zeta Tau Alpha, Alpha Chi Omega, Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu. The university expects these to be completed in the spring of 2015.
As that phase winds down, construction moves across Prior Street, where a guest annex storage building and a rental house will be removed to make way for the new residence hall. Target completion date is late 2015 or early 2016. The three-story facility will also have accommodations for some student services programs, like a health center.
The initial plan called for Alpha Gamma Delta and Delta Delta Delta sisters to remain in their current houses at their request. Both of those can be renovated without displacing the residents, and the university hopes to complete those renovations in 2016.
The two Black Greek Letter Organizations – Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Alpha Kappa Alpha – are not affected by the initial work, but they are eligible for future expansions in residential housing.
“If any of the sororities should develop an interest in having their own house in the future and attract a large enough member base, we will work with them and their national organizations to try to accommodate group houses,” said Schrader. “Meanwhile, we will work with the local chapters to group members together if we can.”
After the last residence hall is completed, the Alpha Delta Pi and Phi Mu houses probably will be razed. Although the university is exploring possibilities for renovating at least one of those buildings for non-residential uses, it appears at this point that the cost for even non-residential renovations would be prohibitive.
“Now that this project is a reality, we will be reaching out to alumnae and others to help fund the effort,” said Brenau Vice President Matt Thomas, the university’s top development officer. “If enough funding can be arranged, we can even provide some enhancements to the plan.”
For information about residential enrollment in the Women’s College, visit http://www.brenau.edu/admissions/womenscollege.