Darton's new student center gets rave reviews

Darton College unveiled its new $19 million Student Center Monday morning to more than 500 people.

Darton College unveiled its new $19 million Student Center Monday morning to more than 500 people.

ALBANY, Ga. -- The difference between Darton College's old student center and its new $19 million, 63,000-square-foot addition to the existing 30,000-square-foot building was stark.

"Last year, all we had was Ping-Pong tables," Darton men's soccer player Matt Horner said as he played pool at one of the two tables in the student center Monday during its ribbon-cutting celebration. "There's a bowling alley, a rock wall. I mean, the technology of the whole place ... I didn't expect this much."

By the look of glee and surprise on many of the faces of the roughly 500 Darton employees, elected officials and other community members, many didn't expect the student center to be so amazing.

Besides the four-lane bowling alley, the 40-foot tall, 25-foot wide rock wall and pool tables, the student center also offers four racquetball courts and an electronic gaming area with popular video games and systems such as Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox. It also features a 35-foot-by-40-foot aerobics area and 8,000-square-foot wooden floor multi-purpose room. Student center staff member Eric McGee also said the facility can be used as a place to "just relax."

Hungry students and staff members will be able to utilize the student center's food court area. The Grille Company, Deli Depot Sandwiches & More, Say Cheese Pizza & More, Cafe Classics, The Oasis beverage area and Out Takes Food to Go are the names of the food sections that are staffed by Valley Food Service. Desserts are also available.

Visitors to Monday's ribbon cutting were treated to a free lunch of their choice by Darton College as part of the celebration. Stevie Hall, an online enrollment counselor at the school, selected chicken alfredo for her lunch.

"I think it's fabulous," she said of the student center. "The game facilities, the bowling, the variety of it. My younger sister is on the soccer team and she's upstairs playing dodgeball."

Darton women's soccer player Taylor Benton, who was bowling with teammates, said the facility was "awesome." Shelby Bush, one of Benton's teammates, concurred.

"(There's) lots to do and keep us busy," she said. "There's computers and everything."

Sarah Thompson was impressed by the rock climbing wall. Thompson works in Darton's ABLE (Adventure Based Learning Education) Center.

"It has natural fixtures instead of just the pulling holds -- the aesthetics of it all adds a new element to it since obviously our old student center didn't have it," she said after scaling the wall. "I think it's going to be a great place to hangout. You don't have to be an advanced climber to use it."

State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, was one of the many invited elected officials and Albany leaders to attend the ribbon cutting event.

"It's quite impressive," he said. "It's perfect for students on campus between classes -- a place to eat, a place to play and a place to study."

Prior to the unveiling of the building, Darton College 21-year President Peter Sireno proudly told the large crowd that the student center would "change the lives of Darton students forever" and that it was "like no other in Southwest Georgia."

Skanska USA Executive Vice President John Reyhan credited Sireno for "his vision on the project." Skanska USA was the project's general contractor.

"A hundred craft workers a day worked on this project for the past 17 months and we've been happy to give back whenever possible," he said. "We delivered a quality institution and all of (our workers) went home safely each night."

Hal Gibson of Hal Gibson Companies believes the student center will change the perception of Darton. Hal Gibson Companies was the project manager.

"We are proud to be a part of something that will transfer Darton from a commuter campus and hopefully take us to more offerings," Gibson said.

Kent McClure of Yielding, Wakeford and McGee architects told the audience -- which was busy fanning itself due to the day's humidity -- that students came into the building last week while some of his staff were doing its punch list. McClure said the students asked him if the building was theirs and he said yes. They told McClure they were "pumped" and "stoked" by it.

"We work with colleges up and down the East Coast and this is as good as anyone else has," Brunswick Bowling & Billiards Eric Lindfors said of the building. "You should all be proud."

Lindfors commemorated the occasion by presenting Sireno, Reyhan and Skanska Vice President Ken Cheatwood with lead crystal shaped bowling pins.

Students will gain access to the student center through paying their $150 student fees. During the May 2009 groundbreaking, Sireno said students will "swipe a card and only students that pay their fees will be allowed in." To ensure that the student center wouldn't become a detriment to Darton's academics, Sireno said students will be monitored like the college's athletes and must maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average.

Sireno said that Darton received $1.6 million to renovate sections of the old student center and will start the project to connect the old student center with the new one later this fall.

Music instructor Richard Miller said Darton has come a long way in his 41 years at the school. When he started, Miller remembered the institution having "five or six buildings and a little over 1,000 students."

Last fall, Darton reported a record enrollment for the fall semester of 5,854 students. The 2010-11 school year begins Wednesday.

"It's just a wonderful institution to be a part of," he said. "There's so much variety of students that you never get bored. Meaning, it's always a challenge to do the best I can and impart knowledge to them."