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Former Vidalia City Hall to be revamped for new center

VIDALIA — Though covered by a damaged roof and filled with mold, Vidalia officials plan to remodel the former city hall on Spruce Street into an information technology center.

The center will be split into three parts — a distance learning center, a hub for the city’s Internet infrastructure and potentially a business incubator — grants coordinator Teresa Dennis said.

The distance-learning center will offer classes through Northwestern State University, Mayor Hyram Copeland said.

“A lot of students cannot afford to go to a university,” Copeland said. “Getting your degree online is becoming very popular.”

Dennis said the distance-learning center would most likely not offer all courses necessary to earn a degree from Northwestern State University.

Though plans haven’t been finalized, Copeland estimated the distance-learning center would cost approximately $200,000 and take three years to complete.

It would be funded through a combination of grants and in-kind donations, Dennis said.

She said in-kind donations are services proved by Vidalia city departments, such as installing wireless Internet access.

The former city hall will also contain a hub for the city’s new Internet infrastructure.

Vidalia is in preliminary stages of installing a high-speed Internet system. Information Technology Director Bobby Paul said speeds would initially be 150 megabytes per second but could later reach speeds up to one gigabyte per second.

Those speeds are faster than most people need, Paul said.

“A speed of one gigabyte per second is hard to put into perspective for a normal person,” he said. “One gigabyte per second would be fast enough to stream live video all the time without ever having to buffer plus some.”

But before data starts flowing through high-speed lines, Paul said the city would build two hubs for the city’s Internet.

“If there is a cut or damaged line, the city can recover from that and reestablish service as quickly as possible with two hubs,” he said. “There needs to be a complete circle, so your longest downtime is the time it takes to drive to the other hub and re-patch around the cut.”

He said the hub would be similar to a large router for the city, but declined to comment on potential price.

“I’m going to be my best to make this economical,” Paul said. “I don’t mean cheap, just the best value. That’s why I am unsure of the price.”

Paul estimated the hub would use 25 percent of the former city hall’s available space.  The remaining 75 percent would be split between the distance learning center and a third tenant.

Dennis said the city hasn’t made a final decision on the third tenant, but is heavily considering a business incubator.

“It’s one of the things we have tossed around as being possible,” she said. “There is currently someone from the small business development center that visits the Concordia Chamber of Commerce, but this might provide them a better space and a permanent situation.”

Chamber director Jamie Wiley said a small business center would provide a much-needed boost to its program.

“Sometimes we have to find places to hold classes,” she said. “Our classes have had some disappointing turnouts at times. (A business incubator) would allow us to offer more classes to small businesses.”

Copeland said the city would begin renovations by replacing the former city hall’s roof, estimated to cost at least $100,000, but said he didn’t know when roof replacement would begin. City employees will also clean the interior of the building, he said.