Tax package would help fund center

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Paine College's planned Health Education Activities Learning Complex will get $2.5 million under the city's penny-tax package.

Of all the outside groups scheduled to get funds in Augusta's next special purpose sales tax package, Paine College is getting the second-highest allotment: $2.5 million, topped only by the Augusta Symphony's $5.1 million toward restoration of the Miller Theatre.

To anyone scoffing at the idea of a private college getting city money, Paine officials say the multipurpose facility they're building won't be just for students and faculty.

"This center is for the community," Vice President of Institutional Development Brandon Brown said. "We're looking at where the critical needs are right now."

The design for the Health Education Activities Learning, or HEAL, Complex includes a 5,000-seat arena, an 8,200-square-foot multipurpose room, a weight room, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a walking track, along with classrooms, teaching labs and a lecture hall.

Mr. Brown said the center will have trainers on staff and be a wellness center for elderly residents and anyone else who wants to drop by for a workout.

The arena will be a venue for high school graduations, and the multipurpose room will be available for rent, he said. The college plans to hold public seminars on childhood obesity and childhood diabetes there.

The HEAL Complex, with a total 90,000 square feet of space, will be beside Carter Gym at Mulherin Street and Druid Park Avenue, built over what's now tennis courts and the dean of students' home.

Mr. Brown said construction should start in the fall. The estimated cost is $20 million. Along with sales tax funds, the money will come from the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, loans, donations and -- Mr. Brown hopes -- state and federal grants.

When he laid out his strategic plan last year, Paine President George Bradley spoke of coupling fundraising efforts with "friend-raising," or raising the college's visibility in Augusta. The HEAL center is a major part of that.

"You're going to see, more and more, the college open itself up," Mr. Brown said. "We want people to know that the college is operating for the entire community, not just one aspect of the community."

City Administrator Fred Russell said the community-benefit aspect of the HEAL Complex wasn't what moved him to include it in the tax package, which goes to voters June 16. He said he was thinking in terms of stimulating development in that area and Augusta's growth as a college town.

"Whatever we can do to enhance that, I think we need to invest in," Mr. Russell said. "We can't attract industry unless we've got an educated job force."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

The SPLOST project list

To view the complete special-purpose sales tax package up for a vote June 16, including a list of outside agencies set to receive funds, click here.