Azziz statement on Augusta's population decreasing called into question

ATLANTA — In a progress report to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, Georgia Regents University President Ricardo Azziz told members Wednesday that Augusta’s population has decreased by 10 percent, a figure not supported by the last U.S. census count.

The regents also selected a Michigan firm to do a critical $2.5 million master facilities plan that could determine whether the university utilizes renovated textile mills that Augusta city leaders are pushing.

In terms of population, Richmond County actually grew by 10,830 residents from 1990 to 2010, an increase of nearly 6 percent. Census figures showed the population was 189,719 in 1990 and 200,549 in 2010.

Azziz made the statement as he talked about how a population shift from Augusta supports the need of a GRU campus in Atlanta. He listed the absence of an Atlanta campus among seven challenges facing administrators, along with federal spending cuts, health reform and the costs of information technology and building maintenance.

“The population of Augusta has decreased by 10 percent,” he said at the Board of Regents meeting. “The reality is there are major changes in demographics in the state of Georgia, and we as a university are the only comprehensive university that does not have a campus or a place in Atlanta. And that is where the students are.”

Azziz was more accurate in his account of the growth of Atlanta’s metro area.

“For the last 20 years, the population of Atlanta has increased by 70 percent. The population of North Georgia has increased by 50 percent,” he said. “The population of South Georgia has decreased by 20 percent.”

According to data in a 2012 report by the Atlanta Regional Commission, the regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency for the 10-county area, the metro area grew by 61 percent from 1990 to 2010.

While she could not address the specific numbers, university spokeswoman Christen Carter said that Azziz meant to refer to the rate of change difference between Atlanta and other areas of Georgia, such as Augusta.

“The rate of change for those areas was less than Atlanta,” she said.

As far as the Atlanta presence, “That was more relationship building” among institutions, donors and alumni, Carter said.

To do the GRU master facilities plan, the regents selected SmithGroupJJR of Ann Arbor, Mich., to produce a master plan for the merged schools. It will have a $2.5 million budget to work with. On their team are the Georgia firms of Stevens & Wilkinson, Brailsford and Dunlavey, Cranston Engineering, and Costing Services. The team was the winner among 10 firms bidding for the job.

The plan will cover all 670 acres and 6.5 million square feet of existing space for the university, the health system and the physicians group.

The planners will assess existing buildings and infrastructure as well as developing a plan for historic preservation on campus.

A key early question in the process will be assessing whether a plan Augusta is exploring of using renovated textile mills as expansion space for the university will be feasible, officials have said.

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