Liberty County School Board members debated the merits and necessity of conceptual master plans for three district properties at a Tuesday morning work session.
The properties are the former administration and special education buildings on Gause Street, a performing arts center campus on Highway 84 and the football stadium and Pre-K Center properties on Bradwell Street.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Conley explained the purpose behind developing plans for the properties.
“There are several older buildings on the Bradwell Street property that need attention,” she said. “The performing arts center property is being master planned because of the need for additional parking. Some of the buildings on the Gause Street property are currently being used for specific programs and the other buildings are being studied for other uses.”
After a lengthy discussion that included suggested revisions to individual phases and addressed the need to approve master plans whose details would likely change down the line, the Gause Street plan was the only one to be approved by the board. Discussions on approving plans for Bradwell Street and the performing arts center campus have been tabled.
On Gause Street, the now-approved master plan calls for demolition of the old special education building and the development of new parking in the first phase, and for a fence to be installed around temporary buildings on the property in the second phase.
The Bradwell Street and performing arts center plans are more detailed. On Bradwell Street, architectural firm Altman+Barrett is proposing several phases, which include:
Near the Pre-K Center
• demolition of the old gym between the administration building and the Liberty Pre-K Center to accommodate parking
• demolition of an old greenhouse in one corner of the property, along with unused tennis courts
• construction of a new multipurpose facility adjacent to the pre-k center that will house the STAR program and provide indoor gym space for the pre-k center
• rerouting of parent pick-up and parking for buses
• relocation and fencing-in of the pre-k center playground
• rotating the football field to a north-south orientation
• constructing a new fieldhouse
• moving the practice field and reconfiguring adjacent parking
• reconfiguring and outfitting concession stands on both the home and visitors side to accommodate organizations that prepare and sell concessions as fundraisers.
The performing arts center master plan is similarly detailed, with recommended phases of project implementation. Phase one calls for renovating the existing facility, making minor repairs and modifications. Phase two is more substantial, involving the proposed addition of a 999-seat auditorium with new parking behind it, the expansion of a pond at the front of the property, creation of a festival/activity lawn and opening up space for a possible amphitheater.
After reviewing the two larger master plans, board member Verdell Jones expressed concern that members hadn’t been given enough time to review the project details, and she suggested the board come back to the architects with a priority list “so the team has some direction” on phasing and development.
Additionally, she asked, “In the master plan can we have option A and option B, with cost comparisons?”
Given the flexibility involved in the long-term implementation of a master plan, board member Becky Carter questioned the need for immediate approval. “If these are ideas and concepts, why are we voting on it?” she said. “I’m not ready to commit. I think we need to look at what we have and do some type of feasibility study, and see how the 250-seat facility is being used.”
Marcia Anderson also said she felt unsure whether she should vote to approve the plans, citing the board’s indecision on the direction of some specific projects.
“We’re approving a plan that we’re not sure about anything on this piece of paper,” Anderson said. “I’m having a hard time deciding which way to vote. It’s like voting to say you will change [the plan]…I think where we failed was the board didn’t sit down and work out some of the details.”
“Concept is the word of the day,” said Rodger Osborne, director of facilities and maintenance, to the board. “The object is to take the program you have and look 10 years down the road at the facilities needed to support that program. What you have is our architects’ best plan for what we have and how it can be done. Before any money is spent, it’s going to come back to you for a vote.”
Board member Carol Guyett suggested putting the proposed changes in front of the public before deciding the plan. “This would be a great community forum issue,” she said.
Fellow board member Harold Woods cautioned that citizens need to be informed that the master plans “are long-term plans, that it’s not going to happen today or tomorrow” should they be approved by the board.
At the close of discussion, board Chairwoman Lily Baker asked board members to meet individually with Superintendent Judy Scherer to discuss their concerns, and Scherer offered to put the master plan discussion on the agenda for the board’s upcoming retreat.
Conley noted that this is the first time the board has addressed developing such a plan, and she later described master planning as similar to planning a trip route. “When you plan a trip, you must know your starting point and your destination. A master plan for a piece of property starts with an accurate depiction of your property in its current condition and your destination is your ultimate vision for that property,” she said.
“How you get to your destination, which route you take, how long it takes you to arrive or whether you ever reach your destination is irrelevant to the master plan. The point is, if you ever decide to go, you have a plan.”
Conley added that a good master plan is like a puzzle, all the pieces fit into specific places, regardless of which section of the puzzle you put together first.
“Without a master plan (or vision), it is very easy to construct buildings, add utility lines or make random improvements to the property that will interfere with the next part of the construction phase. This type of error can be very costly and time-consuming.