ALBANY, Ga. -- It's the little things that will make some of the biggest differences for Lauren Swain.
The Darton College nursing student couldn't contain her enthusiasm Tuesday afternoon as she took in the school's latest addition -- a 25,800-square-foot Nursing Building.
After a $3.5 million building bid, the final cost for the facility was $5.1 million, including the expense of outfitting the labs, lecture halls, furniture and other amenities, Darton College Executive Assistant in Institutional Advancement Cindy Shearer Hammond said.
"Oh my God, we've got comfortable chairs and we will fit without being squished in like sardines," said Swain as she took in the building's first floor 150-seat lecture hall.
Minutes before, Swain had spoken at the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for the Nursing Building in front of a crowd of about 100 people on the sunny, windy afternoon. Swain will graduate from the program in May.
Like many of the officials that addressed the audience, Swain expressed sincere appreciation for everyone who made the new building a reality after the need was first addressed in 1998.
Construction was completed by Wilkerson Construction Company of Columbus and its subcontractors in 12 1/2 months.
"First of all, on behalf of all Darton College nursing students, I would like to thank everyone that had a part in this project," she said. "There are truly no words that can adequately thank you for all of the tremendous work that you have done.
"This building is perfectly designed to fit the needs of the program," she said later. "...These rooms will be the places where memories are made. Events like the fundamentals skills check off, starting your first IV, learning to take a blood pressure and finally drawing up insulin with no air bubbles in the syringe -- all of these things students will now remember happening to them in their new pristine facility.
"This building will only serve to enhance the already exceptional education that Darton's nursing program provides."
Darton Nursing Division Interim Dean April Reese offered perspective to the crowd as to how far the school's nursing program had come since she graduated from it in 1986. She said back then it had 61 graduates and less than 10 faculty members. In 2009, it had 177 graduates and 25 faculty members. Each semester, Darton accepts up to 108 students into the program. It is also has four satellite campuses in Cordele, Sandersville, Swainsboro and Thomasville.
"Faculty can now teach in the same building their offices are in," Reese said of the 21 faculty offices the new building features. "Thank you for all those making this happen. We are all thrilled and happy for this day."
Besides having a 150-seat lecture hall, Matt Hart, project manager with IPG Architects of Valdosta, said the building also will have a 70-seat and 50-seat lecture halls. It will have a simulation lab with interactive mannequins of adults and an infant, a nursing lab and a conference room. There are also roof terraces on the second floor and a student lounge.
"We've enjoyed being on campus and the relationship we built between IPG and Darton," Hart said. "We're very proud of the building, the process -- everything. It's been a really good experience."
Krista Robitz, Darton's director of communications and philanthropy, said the new Nursing Building will get its first use by faculty and students within the next few weeks after the final inspections are complete.
According to Darton President Peter Sireno, graduates of Darton's nursing program make up 70 percent of all the registered nurses at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Palmyra Medical Center and the physicians' offices in Dougherty and Lee county. He also said in a 38-county region, more than 30 percent of the registered nurses are Darton graduates.
Sireno said Darton College had 5,854 students for its fall 2009 enrollment, making it the second largest college population in south Georgia, with Valdosta State University the only larger school.