Building on the theme of “Feels Like Home,” Southern Arkansas University marked an important day in the life of the University and the City of Magnolia – the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Arkansas Hall and the dedication of Burns-Harsh Hall, two new residence halls that are in response to record-breaking student growth.

According to a press release, on Monday, June 11, 2018, SAU President Dr. Trey Berry opened the groundbreaking by welcoming representatives of the SAU family, the SAU Board of Trustees, the City of Magnolia and the SAU Alumni Association. He praised efforts to serve students while building on the relationship between the University and the local community.
“Many of our students come to SAU because it ‘feels like home.’ Today we are honored to be taking the first steps in providing an additional home for our students,” Berry said, addressing about 50 people beneath a blue SAU tent set up near where Arkansas Hall will be built. “This is an exciting day for Magnolia, as well. Studies show that an average college student at a university our size contributes $8,000 annually to the local economy. This means that in Arkansas Hall alone, our students will add $1.1 million each year to the Magnolia and Columbia County economy.”
He praised the city for welcoming students not only from across Arkansas but around the world, thanking Mayor Parnell Vann for always being there for SAU “without hesitation.”
Construction of the 132-bed Arkansas Hall will begin this July and is expected to be completed in July 2019. The Board of Trustees approved a bond proposal in the amount of $7.9 million through the Alumni Association for construction of the hall. The new residence hall will help the University meet continued enrollment growth projections.
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Arkansas Hall will be located on the northwest side of campus, adjacent to Magnolia and Columbia halls, and near the 85-bed Burns-Harsh Hall. SAU has seen an average growth of incoming freshmen of 105-120 annually living on campus over the past five years. Once Arkansas Hall is finished, the four new residence halls on the west part of campus will have a capacity of almost 500 students.
“This would not be possible without the generosity of the Alumni Association,” Berry told the audience Monday.
“Arkansas Hall is a great example of the partnership that exists between the SAU Alumni Association and the University,” said Michael Woods, director of alumni relations. “We are very happy to be a part of Arkansas Hall and excited for the growth in enrollment and students living on campus that have led to the need for additional residence halls.”
Mike Waters, president of the Alumni Association, called it an honor to participate and asked those present to remember the late David Butler, past chairman, who led the campaign for the construction of Magnolia and Columbia halls. “His leadership and expertise made all this possible,” Waters said.
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He pointed to the growing momentum and enthusiasm at SAU. “There’s not a week that goes by that you don’t hear someone say they are amazed at what’s happening here,” Waters said. “It’s a great day to be a Mulerider.”
David Nelson, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees, remarked that Magnolia and SAU work together to make the students feel like they are at home. He said he is always reminded of his experience as a student at SAU and that he still feels the same love for the campus that brought him here from Northwest Arkansas.
Berry then led the ceremony dedicating Burns-Harsh Hall. This residence hall was named for Molly and Dr. Bob Burns and Mary Harsh, who have been friends and supporters of SAU and integral to many significant advances in the life of the University. They are among the top tier of lifetime givers to SAU. Highlights of their contributions include the endowment fund for the Reynolds Center, the Reception Center at Story Arena, scholarships enhanced by the Farmers Bank Distinguished Series, student travel, and other support. The name of the Hall reflects their philanthropy. Harsh, Dr. and Mrs. Burns and other family members attended the ceremony. “Today was a fitting day to honor individuals and an extended family who have been transformational in the history of SAU since its founding,” Berry said. “Mary Harsh and Bob and Molly Burns continue to change lives, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
Those in attendance were then given a tour of the hall, which opened in the fall of 2017. Guests were impressed with the facility, including a showroom, the open-concept lobby and kitchen, study and classrooms, computer lounge, and other facilities residents of the freshman Leadership College enjoy.