Traveling south on Lanier Drive beyond Veterans Memorial Parkway, curious drivers notice a new, well-appointed, two-lane divided street to the right across from The Islands housing development entrance at Aruba Avenue.
What some local officials call the Aruba extension has been paved through a roundabout where another newly paved street branches to the north, a formerly dirt segment of John Proctor Road. Besides the lanes for motor vehicles, the Aruba segment includes a bike lane, curbing, sidewalks, rows of decorative street lamps and some taller security lighting. Shrubbery and a concentric ring of turf have already been established inside the main roundabout.
This isn’t quite a road to nowhere, but a road into Georgia Southern University’s, or now GSU in Statesboro’s, envisioned, still undeveloped South Campus. The only building currently on the South Campus is the Central Warehouse, an $8 million facility that opened in 2016 with features such as climate-controlled storage for museum collections and electronically access-controlled archives.
But a speculative South Campus map that has been on the university’s website for years shows nearly 30 color-coded buildings.
“We’ve got a master plan for the South Campus. It just shows generally this is how many buildings could go out there for us to expand,” said Trip Addison, Georgia Southern’s vice president of university advancement and external affairs.
The South Campus conceptual master plan also shows an extension of Akins Boulevard, extending southwest at first from a proposed intersection on Veterans Memorial Parkway, and curving southeast and then east to Lanier Drive. A second road is shown branching from the Akins extension, at a different roundabout further west within the South Campus, also to eventually intersect with Lanier.
“This parcel will be linked to the main campus by extending Akins Blvd. to Lanier Drive,” states the description of the 208-acre South Campus on the university webpage, sounding a little like a real estate agency blurb. “This extension will become the primary connections between the two sides of the campus.”
Currently, Akins Boulevard exists only inside the Veterans Memorial Parkway perimeter, where it is a front door to the main campus. But its planned extension across the parkway drew new attention this year, when private developers made their recent successful pitch for the city of Statesboro, the Bulloch County commissioners and the Board of Education to create a tax allocation district, or TAD, for the area around Old Register Road at the parkway.
The TAD, by capturing any growth in property tax revenue from construction and rising values after Dec. 31, is projected to provide $4.75 million for public infrastructure, including a new road to run parallel to the parkway and connect Old Register Road to the proposed Akins Boulevard extension.
Tormenta FC’s planned pro soccer stadium complex is planned for Old Register Road south of the connecting road, and a proposed shopping center with a grocery store for between the connecting road and the parkway. These are core elements of $160.5 million in private development, also including hotels, restaurants, offices and some loft apartments, proposed in the now city-adopted Old Register redevelopment plan.
While pitching the TAD proposal to city and county officials, South Georgia Tormenta FC President Darin Van Tassell said that the university will pay for a larger portion of the area’s road network by developing the Akins extension. A lead investor in the TAD-related private development, Van Tassell is also a principal owner of The Clubhouse family entertainment venue and a Georgia Southern professor emeritus.
City and county officials were also informed that the university has now obtained all the property it needs for the Akins extension.
“We were just focused on acquiring the property to make sure the interchange was lined up with Akins,” Addison said, in a brief interview after Georgia Southern’s Aug. 8 fall convocation on the Statesboro campus. “So with what you see off Lanier, we’re just carrying the same aesthetics that you see on Akins Boulevard, and just matching all the way through the property.”
Past the roundabout with the planted island, the Aruba extension stubs off, incomplete to the west. But the John Proctor Road segment continues north toward a smaller roundabout-like connector. On the other side, the road is now closed by a gate behind the Fast & Easy store on Lanier Drive near the parkway intersection.
The work is being funded from the university’s operations budgets, Addison said.
Scope of work
Just in the area where the paving is now complete, the total infrastructure package cost $3.75 million. This is from information obtained Friday from GSU Vice President for Business and Finance Robert Whitaker and Facilities Planning, Design and Construction Director Matthew Shingler through Director of Communications Jennifer Wise.
For that price, the scope of work included 1,600 linear feet of two-lane divided boulevard with the bicycle lane, sidewalks and lighting, plus water and natural gas pipelines for this portion of the road, gravity sanitary sewer for a large portion of the entire South Campus property and regrading, paving and lighting of John Proctor Road and the associated roundabout.
The project also included a right-turn lane into the property from Lanier Drive and expansion of Lanier Drive in that area in coordination with Bulloch County, Shingler had noted.
Both Addison in person on May 8 and the other university officials through Wise on Friday said they have no projection for the overall cost for the Akins Boulevard extension.
Types of buildings
If the current master plan became a reality, these streets would lead to five categories of structures: academic buildings with classrooms and faculty offices, other academic buildings with labs and research facilities, student housing, general use and special use buildings.
At least in past years, an arena that could replace Hanner Fieldhouse as the main Eagles basketball venue and host other events was envisioned as one of the largest South Campus structures.
Since the consolidation with Armstrong State University took effect Jan. 1, any planning now for a Statesboro South Campus becomes part of planning for a Georgia Southern University that already has three main campuses. The others, formerly Armstrong’s, are in Savannah and Hinesville.
New round of planning
“What we’re kicking off this fall is master planning of all the campuses,” Addison said. “So the master planning of that portion of the university will be a part of the full master planning of all three campuses.”
But the road work signals again that the university system has not halted expansion of Georgia Southern’s Statesboro footprint. Meanwhile, the $33.6 million new Interdisciplinary Academy Building is getting finishing touches in the middle of the existing main campus, and the state has funded construction, slated for 2019, on the $54.8 million Center for Engineering and Research. It is planned for the corner of Forest Drive and the existing Akins Boulevard, also inside the perimeter and not on South Campus.
Through Wise, the newspaper asked another GSU vice president, Whitaker, whether the published South Campus master plan has already changed.
“Changes have not been made to this plan since the University constructed the warehouse facility and the subsequent road infrastructure,” Whitaker said in a response relayed via email. “In the next year, the University will engage in a new master planning process that will include review and possible alterations to the south campus plan."
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.