Brenau proposes leasing Mountains Center for graduate programs expansion

Sep 1, 2011
Rudi Kiefer

Brenau University today asked the Gainesville City Council for the opportunity to evaluate a long-term arrangement for the university to lease the Georgia Mountains Center as part of its expansion plans.

With the council’s approval of a memorandum of understanding between the city and Brenau, the university will in its planning consider the Mountains Center as the home for its rapidly expanding graduate-level programs, particularly those in the allied health and rehabilitative services arena.

“This idea truly is in the best interests of both the university and the city of Gainesville,” said Brenau President Ed L. Schrader, who presented the proposal to members of the city council in advance of their scheduled vote on the issue at the council meeting Tuesday. “Brenau has some ambitious growth plans over the next two decades with no place in the Gainesville area to accommodate the growth. The city has the place, but it has become a financial drain.”

If Brenau ultimately elects to enter into the lease arrangement, it will assume financial responsibility for all operations of the Mountains Center and for renovations required for it to accommodate its planned academic programs there. It also will maintain portions of the facility for theatrical performances and other activities accessible to the public.

Georgia Mountains Center
Georgia Mountains Center

Brenau currently enrolls 2,800 students, 960 of whom are in graduate programs. About 40.4 percent of the graduate students are enrolled in health-related master’s degree programs: nursing, occupational therapy, clinical psychology, physician assistant, applied gerontology and health services administration. Schrader said the university envisions doubling its enrollment by 2025 with at least half, about 2,500, seeking advanced degrees, and the allied health services will be a major contributor.

“Even if we only maintained the programs we now have,” Schrader said, “they would represent close to 50 percent of our graduate school enrollment by the end of this decade.”

In addition to critical shortages of health care professionals in many disciplines in north Georgia and elsewhere, many of the health care professions have been highly rated as ideal, virtually recession-proof career choices. Among the CNN-Money listings of the 100 best career choices for salary and employability, health care professions represented more than one fourth of the total. Of the top five, Brenau already prepares students for the No. 2 profession, physician assistant, and is considering preparation for the No. 4 profession, physical therapy.

Indeed, the university already is engaged in feasibility studies to broaden its portfolio. Starting this academic year, Brenau enrolled studies in its first doctorate, in nursing practice. It will launch a doctorate in its nationally ranked School of Occupational Therapy next fall and possibly a doctorate in psychology as early as the following year. Beyond that, Brenau faculty and administrators are looking closely at establishing new programs that do not now exist at the university in physical therapy, speech pathology/audiology, nutrition, pharmacy and other allied health disciplines.

However, there is no place on the Gainesville campus that can accommodate the growth. Brenau already occupies a substantial portion of the Featherbone Communiversity building in Gainesville about a mile from the main campus. The Mountains Center could be a solution.

Schrader said the facility could be renovated to accommodate classrooms, laboratories, offices and other facilities that the academic programs would require. Plus, he said, having allied health programs based in such a facility, with portions still dedicated to public access, would attract professional conventions, meetings and trade shows in the professions.

“Through the Sidney O. Smith Jr. Graduate School, Brenau University intends to establish one of the most prestigious and progressive programs for allied health sciences in the country,” Schrader said. “This will be something every citizen in Gainesville can be proud of and benefit from.”