Originally created 01/22/06

Making room for a big footprint

The Medical College of Georgia isn't going anywhere.

But it would be unbridled folly for Augusta to act like it.

And perhaps we are.

Word last week that MCG is exploring an expansion into the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens may have been unsettling to some here - those who remember speculation several years ago that the University of Georgia might swallow up MCG.

At the close of the 1990s, longtime MCG President Francis J. Tedesco was retiring - and it took seven months for a successor search committee to be formed. That alone fueled a bit of paranoia.

Then it became known that the state had hired a consultant to determine if more research dollars were available to a state medical school that was located on the campus of a major university such as UGA. As it happens, there was no clear research-dollar advantage to having the medical school on campus.

"Had there been a pattern," then-Chancellor Stephen Portch said at the time, "would we have had an exploration of different arrangements? Quite possibly."

The dust has settled since then. But last week's development was unsettling to some. Would the state see the impending closing of the Navy Supply School in Athens as an opportunity to reconsider pairing MCG and UGA?

The answer is, yes and no.

Yes, MCG has a statewide mission, reminds President Dr. Daniel W. Rahn. That includes partnerships with a number of the state's colleges and universities. If the state could use the 58-acre Navy Supply Corps campus to further partner UGA and MCG, then why not?

But no, MCG isn't moving from Augusta anytime soon. As Rahn notes, there's even $120 million in construction projects going on.

We can feel secure.

But not complacent.

Local legislators such as Rep. Quincy Murphy, Rep. Ben Harbin and newly minted state Sen. Ed Tarver have all reached out to MCG. But the city has been less forthcoming in working with one of the area's major employers (some 5,000 faculty and staff) - particularly when it comes to plans for growth.

The sticking point is that the most logical and practical direction for MCG's growth is the 278-unit Gilbert Manor public housing development.

You can understand why it would be a thorny problem: You're talking about disrupting a lot of lives that have been vastly improved by a very socially conscious and active housing community.

But when the city was asked several years ago to merely sign a vague resolution in which it pledged to work on the problem with MCG and the housing authority, commissioners actually declined.

At this point, with such a huge footprint in downtown Augusta - and with that footprint growing - the Medical College of Georgia isn't going anywhere.

But there are a lot of Georgia municipalities, including Athens, that would be a lot more eager to accommodate it.


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