The $10 million gift from the late Dr. J. Harold Harrison and his wife led to at least $13 million more in contributions that resulted in a ground-breaking Wednesday at Georgia Health Sciences University for an education building that will bear his name.
It could also set up his alma mater to get funding for at least one more major project next year, officials said.
Ground was broken Wednesday for the $76.5 million Education Commons next to the $112 million College of Dental Medicine building. It will provide classroom space for both dental students and medical students. Currently, medical students are scattered around campus their first two years and across the state in their last two clinical years, said second-year student Lael Reinstatler.
“Finally having a home (for all students) is what matters most,” she said.
The new building, to be occupied in fall 2014, will allow the Medical College of Georgia to increase from 230 to 300 per class by 2020 and the dental class to grow from 63 to 100 by 2016. Currently, first-year dental students are in classes in the old dental school building and the upper classes hardly see them, said second-year dental student Catharine Moss, who was chatting with first-year medical student Hampton Vernon before the ceremony.
“Having this building will enable us to have more cross-over with the younger students,” she said. “This building is really key for us to bring back that camaraderie and the closeness.”
The 26,620-square-foot simulation center in the new building will allow more interdisciplinary training across health profession programs, which is the way medicine is going now, Vernon said.
“I think that’s a good thing,” he said. “I think that has to happen while you are in school, not just when you get out into the professional world.”
A 1948 graduate of MCG, Harrison was renowned as a pioneering vascular surgeon in Atlanta. He also cared deeply about his farm and cattle-ranching, said stepson Scott Fitzgerald. He would not have relished the recognition from the building as much as he would the purpose behind it, Fitzgerald said.
“He just believed in giving back and hoping that other folks that dedicated themselves and worked hard would have the same opportunity he had,” he said.
Harrison himself would say, “I am so proud of MCG because they took a country boy and made a doctor out of him,” MCG Foundation President and CEO James Osborne said.
His success enabled the $10 million gift, which in turn helped the university land $5 million in donations from Augusta-area donors and an $8 million gift from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation. In fact, the university raised more than $34 million for the project, which University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby called a great model for future projects. The university system’s Board of Regents has voted to recommend $45 million in additional bond funding for a new comprehensive cancer center at GHSU.
“We’re optimistic that will go forward in (the governor’s) budget and in the legislature,” Huckaby said. “We hope to be back here at this time next year for another ground-breaking.”