For students walking through the University of Georgia’s campus, the ongoing construction happening at 980 South Lumpkin St. is especially noticeable. The Episcopal Center located at the site began demolition on March 15 with a plan to build student housing and a worship area in its place.
The new building, which is not directly connected with UGA, will be called The Wright House. Its namesake is Episcopal Bishop Robert Wright, the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. The name was revealed at a groundbreaking ceremony on April 23. The bishop, who was in attendance, spoke about the importance of the project.
“I’m humbled that my name gets associated with it,” Wright said. “This is a space for people to feel rest and security at night, but to pray also and to study.”
The campus missioner, Rev. Clayton Harrington, emphasized that the project, like the center’s events, is available to everyone.
“When we do yoga in the chapel on Thursday nights, that’s open to everybody. You don’t have to be an Episcopalian to participate in the housing or the community,” Harrington said.
The project was first proposed in 2017 with plans to finish the project in 2018. Delays included finding common ground with the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission and UGA as well as complications caused by the pandemic.
The plan was ultimately approved by the Athens commission in March 2018.
Working closely with the university was important for the church throughout the planning process. Wright said that the community support was encouraging.
“We think it is a mutually beneficial relationship,” Wright said. “What we wanted to do was make sure the project was the right size for the plot and that we don’t increase traffic. We want to be a good neighbor, which is about communication. Ultimately, it's about being communicative with the officials at UGA and the president’s office.”
Allie O’Neal, the assistant project manager for the project’s general contractor Grahl Construction, said flow of traffic was especially considered in the final plans.
“We’re always concerned with safety,” O’Neal said. “So we’ve been paying really close attention to traffic and pedestrian safety being right in campus and next to a major road.”
Ultimately, the final plan includes a 123-bedroom facility with attached bathrooms, onsite parking, bike storage, a fitness facility and a common kitchen space.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Rev. Lang Lowrey spoke about the need for affordable housing near campus, citing the rise of homelessness among college students. According to the Hope Center, 8.7% of Georgia college students experienced homelessness in 2018 and 39% were housing insecure.
“The principle idea of this project is to bring people together in an intentional community, not just Episcopalians but people of other denominations and people of no religion,” Lowrey said. “We are also doing it because many students, while they get scholarships and money, can’t afford housing.”
Construction of The Wright House is scheduled to be finished in time for the fall 2022 semester.
“What we are hoping for is a ribbon-cutting ceremony 2022,” Wright said. “Our real big goal is to be able to welcome students in fall 2022.”