Ceremony marks step in new GRU building

The white beam scrawled with signatures was hoisted skyward Friday morning and lifted to the top of the J. Harold Harrison M.D. Medical Education Commons Building at Georgia Regents University. Big donors who gathered to watch the milestone ceremony of the building’s final beam being raised say it was an investment in the university and Augusta itself.

Harrison, a Medical College of Georgia alumnus and former chairman of the school’s foundation who died last year, gave $10 million to help fund the building as part of a challenge grant; that, in turn, attracted $13 million more in donations. Local businessmen Clay Boardman and James Hull and others took up the challenge of raising $5 million locally as part of that, Boardman said.

“Once they understood the mission and they understood the need and they understood the economic benefit to Augusta, it became much easier,” he said.

The impact of the building extends much further than just the students it will serve, GRU President Ricardo Azziz said.

“This is not just about GRU or the Medical College of Georgia or the College of Dental Medicine,” he said. “This is about the future of Georgia.”

Azziz thanked the donors, who included Harrison’s family, for their support.

“Without your vision, your sacrifice, your dedication, your willingness to be part of this incredible occasion, this would not have happened,” he said.

The building is set to open for the fall 2014 classes, when the first of the Harrison Scholars, made possible by his record-setting $66 million gift to the foundation, will be awarded. Ultimately, the building and those other efforts will help attract a better class of students and professors, said Hull, who was recently appointed to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.

“It’s a virtuous circle,” he said. “And this is a piece of that.”

Constructed adjacent to the already imposing College of Dental Medicine Building, it makes a statement, Hull said.

“It’s a great anchor for the university,” he said.

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