Paving the way to the Greenway — Georgia State’s progress on a delayed project

Three Construction workers operate together while finishing up construction in front of what was once known as, Library Plaza. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Construction crews finally furnished the site of Georgia State’s long-awaited Greenway project, that is being transformed from the demolished Kell Hall into a grassland with a concrete pathway. While it’s only a ground zero for what’s to come, it’s also a sign that COVID-19 has not stalled this project.

According to a construction update by Associate Vice President for Public Relations and Marketing Andrea Jones, the construction crew began building two new staircases in February.

“One [would] connect the Courtland Street bridge to a revamped ground-level entrance to Sparks Hall, and the other [would] link Langdale Plaza (the remaining section of Library Plaza behind Langdale Hall) to the greenway down below,” she said. “In late March, crews should begin landscaping the communal greenspace itself.”

This was in February. What’s next for the Greenway? 

Library North will get a glass front as stairs run from its top to the park below it. Stairs would connect the park to Langdale Plaza.

“Future phases will call for extensive modifications to Library Plaza as well as Arts & Humanities, Langdale Hall, Library North and Sparks Hall,” Georgia State University President Mark Becker stated in a letter published in the Spring 2018 issue of Georgia State University Magazine.

Becker alluded to a greenspace project in the fall of 2013. But it wasn’t until six years later in the summer of 2019, Becker announced that the new project would begin.

“Once Kell and this section of the plaza are cleared, we will replace them with a communal greenspace on the ground level,” Becker said in a letter featured in the Summer 2019 issue of Georgia State University Magazine. “This central social space is the first phase of the university’s greenway. [It will] transform entire blocks of major downtown streets.”

Many responded positively to the idea. 

“That’ll be good,” said a Reddit user on a thread discussing Kell Hall’s demolition. “I don’t even go there anymore but Kell Hall needs to go.”

The positive opinions of the project tend to become muted with the uncertainty of the project’s timeline. Georgia State officials consistently and incorrectly predict the completion of the project. 

In a previous article by The Signal, Georgia State’s Vice President of the Facilities Management Services Division Ramesh Vakamudi said he believed the project would be finished by January 2020. 

Senior Director of the Facilities Design and Construction Services Kimberly Bauer first predicted that the project would be finished in March 2020 but ended up changing it to April.

According to Jones, the university hoped the portions of the greenway project would be finished and opened in May 2020. As of August 27, the walkway is still fenced off with blue fabric-covered link fences.

When the state closed due to COVID-19 and the school switched most classes to online-only, it proposed an obstacle to the construction. The park isn’t considered critical infrastructure, so construction on it wouldn’t be considered an essential service.

On April 20, Gov. Brian Kemp announced his plans to “incrementally — and safely — reopen sectors of our economy.” 

“I am confident that together, we will emerge victorious from this war,” Kemp said. With your help and God’s grace, we will build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous state for our families and generations to come. Thank you, and God Bless.”

Restrictions on travel and work lessened since then, albeit businesses have noted that the timing of the reopening was impromptu. Businesses found it difficult to comply with the new “21 guidelines” — a list of protocols which every business must follow before being allowed to open — in a timely fashion.  

Pond & Company is the construction company tasked with designing the new addition to Georgia State. Founded in 1965, the firm designs architecture for a variety of functions: education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc. It is Engineering News-Record’s (ENR) Southeast Design Firm of the Year, and has worked on a multitude of similar projects. For example, the company designed the West End Trail in the Atlanta BeltLine, Vine City Park and the trail on St. Simon’s Island. The company even renovated Sparks Hall in the past.

On March 18, Pond & Company published a letter to their clients, assuring them they were taking every precaution necessary during the pandemic.

“It’s our belief that safeguarding people’s health and maintaining a seamless level of service are not mutually exclusive,” Tony Parker, CEO of Pond & Company, said in an official press release. “We’re adhering to local and national public health guidelines and have temporarily restricted all business air travel to minimize the exposure of our teams.”

In the summer of 2020, while Pond & Company was working on the Greenway—and in the midst of a pandemic—the firm was working on another project to keep government buildings safe from COVID–19, fixturing transparent walls at security desks and in courtrooms. “Implementing protective measures into office spaces is crucial to the health and well-being of returning workers and guests,” Pond & Company stated in a blog post. “Navigating these changes require careful assessment and planning.”

Pond & Company has not responded to media inquiries by The Signal.

Becker hopes that the project will be finished by the end of 2020. But by the way it looks, the greenway will be complete early 2021. 

“Kell Hall, a utilitarian building that served the university in so many eclectic ways, is once again the center of attention on our campus,” he said. “But this time, it’s the site of a redevelopment project that will transform the university for years to come.”

With the ground level down, there will likely be more to come in the next months.