With a final design approved and leases inked, construction is expected to begin this month on the Fabrication Lab and Business and Arts Incubator, to be operated by Georgia Southern University and the Averitt Center for the Arts in city-owned buildings near Statesboro City Hall.
The business innovation center part of the project will expand on the GSU College of Business Administration's downtown-based outreach. Based on a concept pioneered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Fab Lab will make equipment such as 3-D printers and computer numerical control routers available to students and to entrepreneurs with proposals for new products.
"It's just exciting to have such a project between the city, the arts center and Georgia Southern and how we've all come together and dug in and become really good working partners to make this project come to fruition," Robert L. Whitaker, GSU vice president for business and finance, said Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, he had presented the final design and guaranteed maximum pricing to City Council, which unanimously approved everything put it front it regarding the innovation center.
The project's largest funding source is a grant of almost $1.1 million announced in late 2013 by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The project is also a partial beneficiary of a OneGeorgia Authority grant, announced last November, to several area agencies.
One literally sparkling element of the original plan has been dropped. An arched, glass-covered canopy with LED lighting, over a landscaped alley between the two buildings, was not part of the plan approved Tuesday or of the general contractor's guaranteed maximum price.
"When they issue out the bids for all the different components of the project, if the final bids allow for there to be savings, then it could get reinserted into the project, but it's as an alternate item," said Dr. Dominique Halaby, GSU Business Innovation Group director.
Whitaker said the planners have a price for a partial canopy that could be added back.
With input from the university, the city and the arts center, Studio 3 Design Group developed the design plans approved Tuesday.
City Planning and Development Director Mandi Cody, who led the city's part in the effort, noted that it had been identified as an important project during a community leadership retreat in 2012.
"I know it was a lot of hard work to get to this point," said Mayor Jan Moore, who thanked those involved and called for a round of applause.
She also acknowledged that the current plan does not include everything the planners had proposed.
"Let's just be honest, we would have probably hoped for a little more, but I think we've maximized the money that we had," Moore said, "and going forward we can look for ways to enhance the facility."
The business innovation center includes 22 office areas, in addition to two rooms for fabrication equipment. The arts center, with two floors, will have an open studio space and two classrooms, as well as eight studios for rent to artists.
The City Council approved new rental agreements providing 58 East Main St., which was already the GSU City Campus building, and 62 East Main St., which previously contained a business called Yard & Haus, to the university. These begin as one-year leases, but are renewable for 19 additional years, with a $1 annual rent on each building.
Even inside the buildings, some "value engineering," in other words cutting items to make sure the plan will fit the budget, went into the final version Whitaker presented.
BAK Construction's guaranteed maximum price for the Business and Arts Incubator buildings, minus the value-engineered items, is $836,792. From the almost $1.1 million grant, $83,800 went for renovations in the existing City Campus suite.
With $74,531 spent for design and engineering, this leaves $103,456 for other project costs, including contingencies.
The university agreed to fund several deducted items, including fire extinguishers, voice and data connections and some flooring and signs. The city is installing concrete and pavers, underground utilities and some landscaping. OneGeorgia funds will be used to pay for modular walls in the Business Incubator.
But $44,100 worth of items in the Arts Incubator portion, which will be operated by the Averitt Center, so far has no earmarked funding. These costs include some painting, studio doors, cabinetry and flooring.
City Council also authorized an application for a $15,000 state grant for the Averitt Center to use in the Arts Incubator. This would be for sinks in the studios, rather than the unfunded finishing items, said Averitt Center Executive Director Tim Chapman.
The project's planners hope that savings on the construction will provide the means for the Arts Incubator finishing items, Cody said. The guaranteed maximum pricing leaves that possibility.
"As you realize some savings within the project then there will be times at which the working committee can make decisions to start adding things back in," Whitaker told the council.
A revised timeline he presented has the planners receiving final construction pricing by June 11, for a construction start date of June 29.
"We need to start digging and tearing down and renovating things and let that construction begin so that we can be done by one year from now," Whitaker said.
The start date is one week later than originally planned, but the project should still be on track for its proposed June 2016 completion and a July 20, 2016 ribbon cutting, he said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.