After hearing a brief report on the city’s new attempt to bring a Gwinnett Tech campus to Sandy Springs, Tuesday, City Council members wondered what has changed since the last time?
Last year, Sandy Springs joined other North Fulton cities to pitch a local site for a new campus. After debate and uproar in the community, City Council voted in favor of a local campus and offered The Pavilion at Lake Hearn as a location; and a $5 million commitment, split between the city and private contributions. Sandy Springs was not selected and Alpharetta appeared to be on the short list.
Apparently, the Gwinnett Tech school board has started over and they have asked for new Request for Proposals from North Fulton cities. Submissions are due July 1. [Read the attached RFP.]
“Last time the Governor said, 'You [Gwinnett Tech] are not going to build a new facility. Go find an existing space,' ” explained Rusty Paul, chairman of Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce. “This time there is actually slightly over $25 million that has been set aside in bond funds that have been authorized by the General Assembly in the last session, for this particular campus.”
During the City Council work session Paul informed members on how he has been working with Mayor Eva Galambos on possible sites for a Sandy Springs community college campus.
Paul said the Chamber is working on an initiative with the hospitals to leverage them in a positive way for economic development. Their objective is to increase the focus on research and development which would attract biotech and biomedical companies to Sandy Springs.
"Where you've got innovation and research going on, the quality of your healthcare is going to improve dramatically," Paul said.
The allied health industry, particularly research and development is fast growing and Gwinnett Tech wants to tap into it, he said.
Criteria for a potential Gwinnett Tech site includes a nearby rapid transit system and high schools, he said. The site would also include a secondary building, maybe a parking deck that would be funded by bonds.
Many Residents were opposed to a Gwinnett Tech campus. How do you feel on the issue?
As in the last go-round, Gwinnett Tech wants a $5 million commitment from the city that is awarded the site.
“I find it very interesting that they want to locate near rapid transit and yet we think building a parking deck is something that is going to be attractive to them,” said Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny. “And not only do we need a traffic engineering analysis that demonstrates demand, we need revenue projections on how many of those students are going to use them…It doesn’t square with me that if we are near MARTA that we are going to get a demand.”
The Mayor emphasized that no bonds would be sold without a traffic engineer analysis.
Councilman Gabriel Sterling questioned the rushed process. “I just don’t like the speed of which this is done,” he said.
Councilman Chip Collins was interested in the possibility of private contributions to help with the city’s $5 million commitment. “I liked that part of the old deal…When they [companies] actually are saying we want it so bad, then they start throwing money in the pot; then I start listening,” the Councilman said.
Paul did not confirm that private contributions would be available but said the goal is to reduce the city’s outlay. “If we offer them a solution that is under the $25 million they have budgeted for, then that $5 million gift would reduce proportionately,” he said.
Currently Gwinnett Tech has a satellite location the University of Phoenix, here in Sandy Springs. In the fall, they will offer a dual enrollment program to North Springs Charter High School students, the Mayor said.
Paul added, “One of the things that’s made Sandy Springs great is public and private schools. That has held up home values when everyone else’s has gone down.”