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A dedication for the new University of Mary Washington Dahlgren Campus , center for education and research was held on Friday afternoon, February 17, 2012 in King George. The program included remarks from state and local dignitaries, a ribbon cuttting and informal tours of the facility. (Reza Marvashti / The Free Lance-Star)A dedication for the new University of Mary Washington Dahlgren Campus , center for education and research was held on Friday afternoon, February 17, 2012 in King George. The program included remarks from state and local dignitaries, a ribbon cuttting and informal tours of the facility.

Nearly 25 years ago, distance learning was, well, a distant dream.

When the Naval Support Facility Dahlgren needed training for its scientists and engineers, professors from Virginia Tech flew in to help.

A small group of Navy engineers and commanding officers longed for a more permanent training center.

Friday, they celebrated a long-awaited dream come true as state and local officials dedicated the University of Mary Washington’s Dahlgren Campus Center.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Joe Grzeika, who now serves on the King George County Board of Supervisors. “It’s like, pinch me, so I know if it’s real.”

But there was no mistaking the existence of the $20.4 million, 42,000-square-foot Dahlgren Campus Center for Education and Research.

This facility is UMW’s third campus. Graduate-level engineering classes began in the building on Jan. 3. Some 140 students attend courses in 19 classrooms, with teleconference lectures broadcast on flat-screen TVs.

Five schools—the Naval Postgraduate School, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University and Old Dominion University—offer classes in the new campus off U.S. 301 in King George.

“The campus will contribute much to the future vitality of this region,” said Bill Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. “This is a great day for the University of Mary Washington, for Dahlgren and for this entire region of the commonwealth.”

Friday evening, a spate of speakers emphasized the campus’ future contributions to the nation’s technology and to the region’s economy.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R–Montross, said the 27-acre campus will bring “a brighter future for the economy of Virginia, and the science, technology and engineering that comes out of here will advance our nation.”

It took 18 months to build the campus but many more years to plan. The germ of the idea for a science and engineering facility lay dormant for years, Grzieka said.

The economy didn’t seem ready for such a project. But not quite 10 years ago, a group of four men decided to make the  facility a reality.

They recruited then Sen. John Chichester to support their efforts. And the men used their vacation days to lobby politicians and Navy personnel.

Chichester convinced them to partner with UMW, Grzieka said.

The group then brought in the Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program, a consortium of Virginia colleges offering graduate-level engineering degrees.

From its inception, the Dahlgren Campus has been a collaboration of unlikely partners—politicians, professors, engineers and naval officers. But the synergy is just beginning, said UMW President Rick Hurley.

“UMW can serve as a catalyst and a convener to bring the players together and forge creative solutions to regional problems and challenges,” he said. “I believe that the Dahlgren Campus Center for Education and Research is an important and living symbol of this commitment.”

The campus also highlights a commitment to environmental protection, with a roof covered with soil and plants, low-maintenance landscaping and a geothermal heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.

And under the vegetative roof, scientists and engineers will provide innovation and ideas that will power the nation, Wittman said.

“This is the beginning of many years of greatness to come out of the Dahlgren Campus,” he said.

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Amy Flowers Umble: 540.735-1973 

aumble@freelancestar.com

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