Gwinnett Tech expansion, community center renovations on hold

LAWRENCEVILLE - An expansion to Gwinnett Technical College and a grant to restore a historic community center are two of the victims of Georgia's state budget issues.

Part of the $18.65 million earmark for a life sciences building at the Lawrenceville campus along with a $50,000 grant to refurbish the Harbins Community House were put on hold, according to Sen. Renee Unterman.

Unterman said that in addition to low revenues, lawmakers are trying to grapple with a fading economy leading to 10,000 new people on food stamps in the month of October alone. Another 60,000 people joined the Medicaid rolls between June and October.

"It's overwhelming the pressure that is going to be on the state budget," as unemployment rises, Unterman said. "It's hard to justify. How are you going to support a historic building when you've got to feed a child?"

Gwinnett Tech President Sharon Bartels said work is progressing on the life sciences building despite a delay in the selling of bonds for construction.

"We continue to develop programs and work on the design of our much-anticipated Life Sciences building," she said in a statement. "The bonds for the design have been sold. We had 72 firms bid on the project and have narrowed it down to the final architect."

The facility, expected to be the technical college's flagship building, will allow the college to expand its health science programs, as about 6,000 people who apply for the programs each year are rejected because of space.

"We have been told that the bonds for the construction of the building should be sold in the spring," Bartels added on the funding issue. "This may delay the opening by six months, but we'll definitely be ready to quickly move ahead when the money becomes available. In addition, we are very fortunate to have $2 million in a private donation to support the project and can use that money as necessary."

The Harbins house is a former school, built in 1938, which has been home to birthday parties, family reunions, weddings and other events over the decades.

Unterman said she will work to get funds to cope with emergency repairs, if the dilapidated building needs quick fixes to keep the pipes from freezing or the floors from falling in, but the major repairs will need to wait until the hold is lifted.

"We're disappointed because we were really looking forward to doing our renovations," said Kathy Hinton, whose great-great-grandfather donated the land on Brooks Road to the school district in the early 1900s. She serves as secretary of the community house's board and chairs the fundraising efforts.

"We're eager to get it and get back to work," she said. "We're waiting, hopefully patiently."

- Staff Writer Heather Darenberg contributed to this report.