As the executive director of the group that represents dental schools in the U.S. and Canada, Dr. Richard Valachovic has seen a lot of facilities. But he did not mince words about the new $112 million home for the College of Dental Medicine at Georgia Health Sciences University.
“This is clearly the finest building of any dental school that I have seen,” the head of the American Dental Education Association said Friday at the grand opening for the building, which is already in use. It is the largest capital project the University System of Georgia Board of Regents has built, GHSU President Ricardo Azziz said.
“It is much more than a building,” he said, a theme repeated on fans that were handed out at the event. “It is an investment in the health of the state of Georgia.”
Georgia ranks 48th in the number of dentists per 100,000 residents and one in seven Georgia counties lacks a dentist, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said. The new building allowed this year’s incoming class to increase from 70 to 80 and class size will reach 100, Azziz said.
“Growing the size of GHSU’s dental class not only means better oral health for Georgia, it means better economic health for our state as well,” Deal said.
The building will do more than teach and train students – it will help to attract students, faculty and patients, Valachovic said.
“People are going to want to come here,” he said.
It is part of what Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver called a “renaissance” and an “era of building” that has seen $361 million in investment in downtown Augusta and the surrounding areas. The city helped make the project happen by buying the former Gilbert Manor housing area and donating it to the university, and university officials and Copenhaver repeatedly acknowledged the “sacrifice” those residents made in moving so the university could expand.
“This is what can happen when people work together toward something that is bigger than themselves, joining together selflessly, tirelessly and patiently, persistently pursuing a goal,” Copenhaver said.
The university has saved bricks from the former housing units and will be building a monument with them to the former residents, but it has been delayed to allow for them to have input, Dean Connie Drisko said.
“It’s coming,” she said. The gleaming, soaring building itself is “fitting architecture, a representation of the gifted faculty, the exceptional students and the superb staff,” Drisko said.
But Dr. George Schuster can remember when the dental school began, in 1969, they taught 30 students out of two temporary trailers. When they got the first building in 1971, it was a “state of the art facility,” he said. More than that the school had an approach to teaching “to work with the students to make them as outstanding as possible, basically a professional relationship,” said Schuster, a professor emeritus of oral biology. “That has not changed. That is what made this school unique then and still makes it unique now.”
Second-year dental student Miles Bell said the new building is something he can tease his brother about. Dr. Jack Bell graduated from the school last year, before the new building opened. Miles Bell still goes back to the old building for some classes and training and it has given him a unique perspective on the dental school, he said.
“It nice to be part of the history and the future of it,” Bell said.