By Walter L. Johnson II
A project many years in the making has finally become a reality.
Darton College had the grand opening of its new student center on Monday before hundreds of alumni, friends, students and supporters.
Peter Sireno, who has served as Darton’s president since 1989, says the opening of the new student center meets the needs of a fast-growing institution that now boasts more than 6,000 students entering the new academic year.
“When we added the student housing (in 2009), and we’re going to add additional housing, over the next several years, we needed to design a facility where students can come, and basically kind of let off some steam, but at the same time, a place that they can congregate, and interact with one another,” Dr. Sireno said, “and enhance, if you’d like, what they’re learning in the classroom, and that’s what this facility can do.”
It was a vision that Kent McClure of the architectural firm Yielding, Wakeford, and McGee enjoyed when designing and building the facility.
“We just really enjoyed being a part of the process of designing a new student center for Darton College, and working very closely with Dr. Sireno and his vision for creating an awesome place for the students to come and study here at Darton,” said McClure.
With a final estimated cost of between $16-17 million to build, as well as a building that includes a bowling alley, racquetball courts, and a gymnasium for sports such as volleyball and half-court basketball, Darton student affairs director Dr. Gary Barnette ranks the new student center as one of the greatest moments of his career.
“(It’s) probably one of my most exciting moments of my 16 years here at the college,” Barnette said regarding the opening of the new student center. “This facility, I think, is one of the finest buildings that we have on campus, (and) it may be one of the finest buildings in Albany.”
“I know that it’s the nicest student center in southwest Georgia,” added Barnette. “This is a great opportunity for our students to be involved on the campus.”
Darton economics professor Aaron Johnson believes the new student center will have benefits beyond the campus, and metro Albany as a whole.
“I think it’s going to have a significant impact,” Johnson said. “For one, we can draw upon a larger pool of students, outside of just this service area/region. So when you talk about being able to recruit students beyond this area; Florida, and Georgia, they have the potential to stay here in this Albany area.”
Johnson also thinks a new student center, combined with the student housing that opened in 2009, will have a significant economic impact on the Darton campus, as well as the businesses surrounding it.
“When you think about the student housing,” Johnson added, “these are students who are not only going to be here in the student center, but they’re going to be going to various small businesses, (and) restaurants in the area, and there’s going to be an impact economically through that.”
Because of the new student center, Sireno thinks that enrollment at Darton will remain on the rise over the next five years.
“For the next five years, we see the college growing from our 6,000 (student) enrollment to 10,000,” Sireno said, “and we see a lot of other additional facilities. We see us being able to house on-campus, up to 1,500 students, and we know that we are adding to our resource center, and we’re adding another large general classroom, and also another classroom building for the humanities, so we see a lot of this type of thing happening, as the college continues to grow.”