Garden City to sell old gym to school district, funding new recreation – Savannah Morning News

After five years of deliberations, the Savannah Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) has proposed to purchase the Garden City gym complex, located adjacent to the still-under-construction Groves K-12 Multi-Campus.
The new arrangement shifts away from previous plans for Garden City to rebuild the 60-year-old gym complex on the current site. Instead, the city will construct a new recreation center on a 14-acre site of the old Haynes Elementary School campus, located a mile south of the current gym complex on the corner of 5th and Oak streets.
Prior plans to build an affordable housing complex on the Haynes site have been scrapped, according to Mayor Don Bethune, but the city is currently identifying multiple other sites for housing. 
Garden City:Gym complex one of the largest recreation investments city will make in years
“This is the best setup for kids and their parents,” said Garden City Manager Scott Robider. “This way, the students don’t have to be bused or driven to another location.”
City officials present at a community meeting on Aug. 10 were pleased with the potential new deal. Mayor Bethune pointed out that this arrangement is actually less costly for the city since they no longer have to tear down the old gym.
The Haynes property is also three acres bigger than the current gym property so the city will have slightly more wiggle room for the design. 
The Savannah-Chatham school system had been in talks about purchasing the property for the last five years, and had ultimately veered away from that decision until recently, said city officials.  
“We thought that decision was final,” said Bethune, “but we’re on the same page now.”
At the Savannah-Chatham School Board meeting on Aug. 10, board members approved a $3.5 million budget transfer for the purposes of purchasing the property. 
“The superintendent’s recommendation for the transfer of monies to support this work sets up accounts for future land acquisition,” said SCCPSS Chief Public Affairs Officer Kurt Hetager in an email. 
The School Board meets again on Sept. 7. 
Related:First City Progress: Garden City seeks to build affordable housing at former school site
Once the sale is made, Garden city will reinvest those funds into the new recreation complex. Potential funds from a 10.6-acre residential site sale will also be funneled into the project.
Combined, that will make up about half of the predicted $12 million to $13 million cost of the city’s gym, said Bethune, noting the potential for construction costs to rise. The rest of the monies will come from bond issues and city funds, he says. 
While SCCPSS has yet to make a final decision on the property purchase, Robider said the city is going to “be proactive, act in good faith” and draft up the sale contract as well as the memorandum of understanding (MOU), which will outline public access to the school-owned gym complex. That way, residents will be able to access the complex during hours the school is not using it. The Garden City Council plans to vote on those agreements at its meeting on Aug. 15. 
Conceptual plans for the city’s recreation center on the old Haynes property have remained largely the same as the designs shown last fall. Amenities for the complex include a gymnasium, a multi-purpose field, multi-use courts, shade pavilion, playground, spray pad, pool, concessions, restrooms, a parking lot and a retention pond that will collect water runoff. 
According to the three designs, residents will access the complex off of U.S. 80 through Alfred Street, which will be extended. Plans also indicate there will be another access point on the east side of the complex so residents in the neighborhood can enter by foot. 
According to the Parks and Recreation Department Director Cliff Ducey, builders will probably begin laying the foundation next spring. The School Board has given the city until next August to vacate the old gym complex.  
When that happens, the SCCPSS will open up their Mercer Middle School facilities, located a quarter mile to the north of the current gym, so Garden City can sustain their recreation program.
Garden City Council Members Richard Lassiter and Natalyn Bates Morris called the new arrangement the right move. 
“I absolutely love it,” said Lassiter, whose district includes the Haynes property, “For a long time, residents have been wanting this in our district, so to see it come to fruition is amazing. I’m hoping this will be the rebirth of sports in Garden City.”
Morris, whose district is home to the original gym complex, acknowledged the community’s need as well.
“They’ve been asking for recreation in that area for 20-plus years,” she said. 
Residents also seemed pleased with the new deal. Spencer Baker grew up in the Rossignol Hill neighborhood, where the new gym will take root. He cited a steady decline of recreation in the area in the last few decades. 
“The children in the area have no outlet, there’s no playground or anything and that’s where the trouble arises from,” said Baker, “They should attempt to revitalize it.”
Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at or on Twitter @nancyguann.


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