Garden City to sell former gymnasium to school district, funding new recreational activities


After five years of deliberation, the Savannah Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) has offered to purchase the Garden City gym complex, located next to the groves still under construction. Multi-Campus K-12.

The new layout departs from previous plans for Garden City to rebuild the 60-year-old gym complex on the current site. Instead, the city will build a new recreation center on a 14-acre site of the former Haynes Elementary School campus, located one mile south of the current gymnasium complex at the corner of 5th and Oak streets.

Previous projects to build an affordable housing complex on the Haynes site have been abandoned, according to Mayor Don Bethune, but the city is currently identifying several other sites for housing.

Garden city:The sports complex is one of the biggest recreational investments the city will make in years

“It’s the best setup for kids and their parents,” said Scott Robider, manager of Garden City. “This way, students don’t have to be bussed or taken to another location.”

City officials attending a community meeting Aug. 10 were pleased with the potential new deal. Mayor Bethune pointed out that this arrangement is actually less costly for the town since it no longer has to demolish the old gymnasium.

The Haynes property is also three acres larger than the current gymnasium property, so the city will have a bit more design wiggle room.

The Savannah-Chatham school system had been in talks about buying the property for five years and had ultimately walked away from that decision until recently, city officials said.

“We thought this decision was final,” Bethune said, “but we’re on the same page now.”

At the Savannah-Chatham School Board meeting on August 10, board members approved a budget transfer of $3.5 million for the purpose of purchasing the property.

“The superintendent’s recommendation for the transfer of funds to support this work creates accounts for future land acquisition,” SCCPSS director of public affairs Kurt Hetager said in an email.

The school council meets again on September 7.

Related:First City Progress: Garden City seeks to build affordable housing on former school site

Once the sale is complete, Garden city will reinvest these funds in the new recreation complex. The potential funds of a Sale of a 10.6 acre residential site will also be included in the project.

Combined, that will be about half of the city’s $12 million to $13 million projected cost of the gymnasium, Bethune said, noting the potential for increased construction costs. The rest of the money will come from bond issues and municipal funds, he says.

While the SCCPSS has yet to make a final decision on whether to purchase the property, Robider said the city will “be proactive, act in good faith” and draft the sales contract as well as the memorandum of understanding. (MOU), which will describe public access to the school-owned gym complex. This way, residents will be able to access the complex during times when the school is not using it. Garden City Council plans to vote on those deals at its August 15 meeting.

The concept plans for the town’s recreation center on the former Haynes property remained largely the same as those of the drawings shown last fall. Resort facilities include a gymnasium, multi-purpose field, multi-purpose courts, shade pavilion, play area, spray area, swimming pool, concessions, restrooms, parking and a retention pond that will collect water runoff.

Under all three designs, residents will access the complex from US 80 through Alfred Street, which will be expanded. Plans also indicate that there will be another access point on the east side of the complex so that neighborhood residents can walk in.

According to Parks and Recreation Department Director Cliff Ducey, builders will likely 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 its Mercer Middle School facility, located a quarter mile north of the current gymnasium, so Garden City can maintain its recreation program.

Garden City Council members Richard Lassiter and Natalyn Bates Morris called the new arrangement a good move.

“I love it,” said Lassiter, whose neighborhood includes the Haynes property, “Residents have wanted this in our neighborhood for a long time, so to see it come to fruition is amazing. I hope this will be the rebirth of the sport in Garden City.

Morris, whose district is home to the original gymnasium complex, also recognized the community’s need.

“They’ve been asking for recreation in this area for over 20 years,” she said.

Residents also seemed pleased with the new arrangement. Spencer Baker grew up in the Rossignol Hill neighborhood, where the new gym will take root. He cited a steady decline in recreation in the area over the past few decades.

“The kids in the area don’t have an outlet, there’s no playground or anything and that’s where the problem is,” Baker said, “They should try to revitalize.”

Nancy Guan is the general assignment reporter covering Chatham County municipalities. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @nancyguann.


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