"One of the things that the college was very aware of is our curb appeal, and we redid the front entrance of the college with beautiful landscape and architecture," said Brandon Brown, the vice president of institutional advancement.
The $1 million face-lift of Haygood-Holsey Hall on 15th Street is nearing completion, and the school is preparing to launch construction on two new dormitories and an 80,000-square-foot health and wellness center.
It's the first phase of a 25-year master plan that is aimed at making the college a premier liberal arts institution for the region.
On the outside, construction heralds change. On the inside, mystery cloaks faculty changes involving several key employees.
The status of 31-year employee and head men's basketball coach Ron Spry remains unclear after he was placed on administrative leave in December.
Administrators have refused to say why or talk about Spry's future.
"It's our policy not to comment on personnel issues," Brown said. "It would not be in the interest of employees, or former employees, to comment. The college always takes the position to always protect employees or former employees."
Spry, 57, is the first athletic coach in Augusta to reach the milestone of 500 career wins. He boasts a 514-403 coaching record, while also doing charitable work with juvenile programs and senior citizens. When asked about his leave, Spry said he would not comment until the situation is resolved.
Since administrators forced him off the court, his supporters have waited for answers. Paine graduate T.J. Conley was a junior on Spry's first team in the 1980-81 basketball season and remains close to Spry.
Conley said that when children couldn't afford basketball camps, shoes or equipment, Spry was there. The coach has also been known to help when friends were on the verge of losing their homes or struggling with medical issues.
"Spry has a legacy that goes way beyond Carter Gym," Conley said. "He has those values that if he can help somebody, he will."
Conley said Paine's tight-lipped silence on the issue is a travesty.
"That's a slap in the face to everyone who's been a supporter of Paine College over the years," he said. "It's a sign of disrespect. If nothing else, the public has a right to know."
The college's athletic department sent word out Saturday that it will hold a news conference at noon Monday in the Randall Carter Gymnasium to issue a "major announcement," but did not elaborate on the subject. Neither Spry nor Natasha Carter, Paine's director of communications, returned telephone messages left Saturday night.
Administrators also fired resident director of dorms Christopher Blue while he was away from campus and cleared his belongings out of his dorm room.
According to a police report, Blue returned to his dorm to find the locks changed.
His belongings had been put outside, and two $13,000 wristwatches were missing.
Housekeeping supervisor Duane Vanloo told police he had been instructed by Tina Cardenas, Paine's vice president of student affairs, to place Blue's belongings outside. Blue said he also reported his bed sheets, Dolce & Gabbana cologne and private documents missing.
Blue came to Paine in June 2009 as interim sports director, resident director of dorms and director of fitness and wellness, he said.
Blue said he helped clean up dilapidated dorms, mentored students and established social programs for the community.
While Paine officials would not comment on the issue, Blue said Cardenas told him he was being terminated for "insubordination," but she refused to explain why.
Blue said he has hired a lawyer to investigate a wrongful termination case since he has no disciplinary record to date.
"It's just the fact that maybe if I had had a warning, a written reprimand, something," Blue said. "But to have called you up at the end of us being out for Christmas break and to be told that you're fired, then it's just negative."
Cardenas did not respond to repeated phone messages seeking an interview.
The school's administration also went through changes after Paine's provost and vice president of academic affairs, Curtis Martin, left last year.
Martin was hired in 2002 and served on the master planning committee in 2009. Paine officials would not discuss Martin's departure, but several people associated with the college referred to it as a firing. Efforts to reach Martin were unsuccessful.
The current interim associate vice president of academic affairs is Tina Marshall-Bradley, wife of George C. Bradley, Paine's president.
According to the master plan, Paine hopes to boost its student enrollment from 863 to 1,050 by 2015. That will come with an increase from 69 to 84 faculty members. The school will continue to focus on undergraduate research using a $3 million U.S. Department of Energy grant it received in April for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Brown said.
Officials also expect to break ground in the 80,000-square-foot Health Education Activities Learning Center early this year. The $14 million HEAL Center will house research labs, weight room, walking track and Olympic-size pool.
Staff Writer Chris Gay contributed to this report.