A vision realized: Brenau Downtown Campus takes shape with Renaissance expansion

Brenau University is expanding its footprint in downtown Gainesville to coalesce into a true downtown campus location focused on health sciences. The university’s revitalization of the former Georgia Mountains Center and the addition of the Gainesville Renaissance are changing the look of downtown.

Brenau’s expansion in a prime location contiguous to the Brenau Downtown Center also allows for a greater vision for Brenau’s downtown imprint. 

“The creation of a health science-centric Brenau Downtown Campus has positive impact for both Brenau and the downtown area,” Board of Trustees Chair Mike Smith says. “The Brenau Downtown Campus is an important step in support of our strategic vision for expanding our efforts and programs, which will support our continuing efforts to recruit quality students and faculty members to these programs and attract additional charitable dollars.”

This spring, the Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling at Brenau University moved into its home on the second floor of the Gainesville Renaissance, one of the downtown area’s newest buildings. The move from Brenau’s historic Gainesville campus will facilitate expansion of the school’s counseling clinic and academic programs, which includes plans to add a doctorate in fall 2023. 

“I’m grateful to Doug and Kay Ivester for another extraordinary gift,” Brenau President Anne Skleder says. “Their generosity and commitment to the people of Gainesville and Hall County focuses their extremely generous investment in education and the health sciences. We are humbled to be stewards of their investment.”

The Darby School’s growth is driven by a national and statewide gap in mental health services. The employment of counselors in substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health is expected to grow 23% through 2030 with about 41,000 job openings annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Georgia ranks near the bottom nationally in access to mental health, and much of the state is categorized as underserved by the Georgia Department of Community Health.

“The state of Georgia is in dire need of more well-trained mental health professionals. Even more importantly, the local need is great. In Hall County, there are only 4.9 psychologists per 10,000 children, and 76 other Georgia counties have no psychologists,” Skleder says. “Brenau is working to address this shortage and is dependent upon highly trained, experienced and motivated faculty like Dr. Julie Battle, chair of the Darby School, to do so.”

In late fall 2021, Battle, also a professor of psychology, was named a Fuller E. Callaway Professorial Chair. Her selection continues to build the prestige and momentum of the school, which is part of the university’s Ivester College of Health Sciences.

The downtown move and the doctoral program aren’t the only projects Battle is shepherding. She also is overseeing work on a graduate-level dance/movement therapy certification program and developing a partnership with law enforcement to find the best ways to integrate mental health practitioners into their agencies.

“We are also working to increase community access to mental health services through our Brenau Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, and increase educational and training opportunities for adolescents in our community,” Battle says.

While the Darby School takes up an entire floor in the Gainesville Renaissance, the building also has ample space to feature more of Brenau’s prestigious and expansive art collection. Artwork is featured throughout the second floor, and dedicated gallery space is included on the first floor. 

Next door to the Gainesville Renaissance, Brenau also is investing more than $1.95 million for exterior construction of the Downtown Center facility to create a new, easily accessible main entrance and improvements at various entrances. The enhancements will visually and architecturally connect the two buildings, allowing for a new downtown Gainesville campus location to truly take shape. 

The Brenau Downtown Center, which currently houses the university’s physician assistant studies and physical therapy programs, has been a cornerstone of the Ivester College of Health Sciences since it was first renovated for Brenau’s use in 2012 through an agreement with the city of Gainesville. 

In addition to the academic facilities, the center’s three multipurpose spaces are available for university and public use. The facility also features the Thomas Atrium, Manhattan Gallery of Modern Art and the Life Enrichment and Wellness Center.

In the spring, Brenau announced an expansion of the partnership with Lakeview Academy, a private, coeducational day school for students in preschool through 12th grade located in Gainesville. The partnership allows Lakeview’s theater program to use the facility’s Charles D. Walters Theatre on the Square for practice and productions.

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