First UGA faculty, students move to former Navy School campus

After years of planning and preparation, the first wave of University of Georgia faculty and staff members moved into a building on the former Navy Supply Corps campus in Normaltown this week.

“I’m just totally nonplussed,” said epidemiology professor Claire Robb as she eyed 21 boxes of books, journals, research and student files piled on the floor of her office in Miller Hall, the new work home for Robb and 63 other UGA workers and graduate students in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics, part of UGA’s College of Public Health.

Other College of Public Health departments are scheduled to move to the campus over the next two years, along with the Georgia Health Sciences University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership. The university’s new child care center also opened on the campus this week.

Robb didn’t look forward to unpacking, but she was looking forward to using her new office — once she got her 21 boxes unpacked and stored in the proper shelves and cabinets. Robb also now has an office with windows; in Coverdell, some faculty members actually worked in closets, and there was no space at all for graduate students, said department head John Vena.

Now Robb’s three graduate students will have a room of their own.

“Basically, we were in closets and other small spaces, with no spaces for students,” Vena said.

University and contract workers took only a day to install the epidemiology and biostatistics department into the new building.

Built in 1917 as a dormitory for young women studying at the State Normal School which occupied the Normaltown campus before the Navy Supply Corps School, Miller Hall is the first UGA building where all the phones operate through Voice Over Internet Protocol, using the Internet instead of traditional phone lines to make connections, Vena said.

Professors will be commuting to the main UGA campus to teach most of their classes — construction workers are still working on renovating another building on the campus for classrooms. But several small classes will begin meeting in conference rooms in Miller Hall, the first UGA classes to be taught on the new campus that the university acquired after the U.S. Navy decided to shut down the Supply Corps School, which had its last graduating class in 2010.

The epidemiology and biostatistics department will be a little isolated from the UGA campus for the next few months, but that separation won’t last long, according to Phillip Williams, dean of the College of Public Health.

The medical partnership is scheduled to move onto the Normaltown campus — now renamed the UGA Health Sciences Campus — this fall.

And by 2014, most of the public health college’s faculty will be on the campus as most of the college’s other departments and centers move in one by one, Williams said. Until then, most faculty members must remain in offices scattered across campus and in rented spaces downtown, Williams said.

“We’ll have control of our own space in a way that we’ve not had, and it’s permanent,” he said.

Only the college’s environmental health science department will remain on campus. Those faculty members need specialized lab facilities which the Normaltown campus doesn’t have, he said.

But once the college’s other departments and research centers are in one place, faculty can more easily work with each other and build a more collaborative academic culture, Williams believes.

“It’s difficult to develop a common culture when you’re scattered. That’s been a real challenge for us, having people in so many locations,” he said.

– Lee Shearer [email protected]
Athens Banner Herald

Posted January 9, 2012.