20 years later: How The Centennial Olympics Transformed On-Campus Housing at Georgia Tech
Can you believe it's been 20 years since the Olympics came to Atlanta? I can't, AND if you're an undergrad at Georgia Tech, chances are you weren't even alive when our campus was the Olympic Village.
Although it has been 20 years since the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta will have legacies to the games standing for many years to come. You don't even have to look to the Olympic cauldron or Centennial Olympic Park to find an Olympic relic in Atlanta.
Just look on our own Georgia Tech campus: the campanile, the CRC, and housing for over 14,000 Olympic athletes, officials and journalists from July 6 to August 7, 1996. As the calendar flipped to September 1996, Georgia Tech students replaced Olympic swimmers, fencers and boxers as tenants when we took over the apartments in the fall of 1996.
My name is Sravanthi Meka. As the marketing manager for Georgia Tech's Department of Housing & Conference Services, I love that I can market that we WERE the Olympic Village.
I was 18 years old when the world came to Atlanta for the Centennial Olympic Games, July 19 to August 4, 1996. I had just graduated from high school, and was starting my freshman year in college in the fall.
While many former and current Georgia Tech employees like myself have memories of attending or watching the Centennial Olympic Games, most of our current students weren't even born, or have no memories of the games, but they will always have a connection to the 1996 Olympics.
Before the Olympics, the apartment that you lived in didn't exist. Many traditional residence halls didn't have central air conditioning - just the old school window units. Maybe these accommodations would have happened over time, but we would not have received so many benefits in such a short period of time without the Olympics.
Let's look at how we evolved from Atlanta being selected as the site for the 1996 Olympics, to creating Olympic athlete housing, and then turning into student housing in just six years.
On September 18, 1990, the City of Atlanta was selected to host the 1996 Summer Olympics, the Centennial games of the modern Olympiad. Atlanta beat out favorite Athens, Greece, the home of the ancient Olympics and the first modern Olympics, Toronto, Canada, Melbourne, Australia, Manchester, Great Britain and Belgrade in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Just think, when Atlanta won the bid, the Braves were about to finish a 65-97 season, a last place finish before their record 14 postseason appearances. The Braves and Falcons shared Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium. Georgia Tech had a student population of 12,271.
Because the North Avenue Apartments were completed in 1995, Georgia Tech freshmen were the first to inhabit the dormitories in the Winter and Spring 1996 quarters, while much of East Campus was under renovation for the Olympics. The North Ave Apartments are also the first Georgia Tech buildings to be taller than Tech Tower.
After the Olympics, HOPE scholarship was available to all University System of Georgia students who graduated from Georgia high schools, regardless of income. We were in the quarter system, and would remain so until August 1999, partly due to the Olympics.
Georgia Tech wasn't the only school to benefit from the Olympics need for housing. Georgia State occupied the North Ave Complex, then known as the Georgia State University Village after the Olympics until March 8, 2007. This was the first on-campus housing for Georgia State University.
Even after acquiring the North Ave Apartments from Georgia State in 2007, because of the growth of its student body, Georgia Tech currently uses all of its available housing, approximately 40 percent of its student population.
Before we acquired the North Ave Apartments, some residence halls housed "triples", which was a project that put three residents into a two-person room. Certain pieces of furniture were not provided to the third resident as to accommodate a third bed. When spaces became available in other parts of campus, the third resident was moved elsewhere. This was in the Fall of 2006, and further proved that we needed more on-campus housing.
Adding the North Avenue Apartments in 2007 allowed us to complete long-term construction projects, like the complete renovation of Towers & Glenn. Availability of beds in other buildings allowed us to close each of those buildings for an entire year.
The addition of the North Avenue Apartments also meant an additional 2000 students who could use Brittain Dining Hall, so North Avenue Dining Hall was constructed in 2011, and opened in Fall 2012.
The expanded housing wasn't a gift to Georgia Tech though. The remainder of cost of construction, as well as upkeep being our responsibility.
Even before the acquisition of the North Avenue Complex, the apartments on West Campus added almost 4,000 additional beds, and the Housing department saw an opportunity for using these beds in the summertime, when many Georgia Tech students were off-campus, interning and cooping all over the country and the world. The Office of Conference Services was created as part of the Department of Housing in March 1998.
Conference Services created an opportunity for revenue, and opening our campus to a new audience, including youth groups and professional development organizations. It also created full-time employment opportunities for our housing staff, as custodial staff would be needed to maintain facilities during the summer. In turn, this need for full-time employment extended to other departments such as dining, parking and the student center, where our conference guests were using services throughout the summer. In the summer of 2016, eighteen years after hosting the first conference group, Georgia Tech Conference Services hosted 75 groups and over 10,122 individual guests, and enabled our dining partner, Sodexo, to serve 110,620 meals over a 10-week period.
Whenever I talk about the apartments built for the Olympics, people mention the North Ave Apartments that they can see from the interstate. What many don't realize is that outside of the Tenth & Home family housing apartments, all apartments on campus - Fourth Street Apartments, Graduate Living Center, Maulding, Zbar, Center St, Crecine, Nelson-Shell, Eighth St - were all built for housing Olympic athletes and officials as well. GLC and Nelson-Shell were even open before the Olympics, in 1992.
While we had family housing apartments previously, they were in need of expansion and renovation. The Olympics had an estimated economic impact of $5.14 billion on the city of Atlanta, and throughout the state of Georgia, as Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, Lake Lanier and Callaway Gardens also hosted events.
After the 2 million plus visitors left Atlanta, and an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide watched the games on television, our student population in 1996 of almost 13,000 were able to reap the benefits that those visitors allowed. I hope that you can appreciate the history of your home, and know the work that went into making the 1996 Olympic Village into Georgia Tech Housing for our students.
The next time you walk into your apartment or residence hall, remember that it is living history. Champions lived and played here. Not all of them won gold, silver or bronze, but they were all champions within their own country, and representing their nation proudly. We get to live, study and work in what was once the Olympic Village.