'The next great idea'
Students kick off design projects

COVINGTON - Once again, students with the University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design have come to live and study in Covington to learn more about their chosen field of landscape architecture by working on several local projects.

The program, now in its fourth year, is made possible by the UGA Metropolitan Design Studio, previously located in Clark's Grove and now housed at The Center for Community Preservation and Planning on Washington Street.

Ten students are participating in the 11-week course, which will have them designing everything from a bicycle rack to buildings.

They will live in Clark's Grove, in the space above the former site of the design studio, and work at The Center, where an open-door policy allows the public to view their progress.

Having arrived just last week, the students were quickly given a first assignment: Conduct a visual inventory of Covington and the surrounding area, with each two-person team selecting a unique and specific way of looking at local architecture.

They made a public presentation at The Center at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The projects consisted of a haunted tour of Covington, where visitors could walk or drive to sites purported to be visited by spirits; a historic and architectural tour of the downtown; an exploration of how the architectural styles of buildings are linked to the types of food served there; the importance of the Square; and use of pedestrian and driver-friendly signage.

The purpose of the project was "to introduce the students to Covington and utilize their unique perspective and their experience of Covington, to reflect back to the community that experience," said Professor and Architect Hank Methvin.

Many more public presentations and input sessions will follow, as the students work on other projects, most notably a conceptual design for the Covington Government District.

The project will focus on improving pedestrian access and landscaping as well as design of new buildings that could be incorporated into the district.

Other projects include the design of a bicycle rack that will be constructed at an undetermined location and a preliminary design for a multi-use development along the proposed Atlanta BeltLine, which will add 22 miles of light rail transit that will connect with existing public transportation, connect neighborhoods and add greenspace in the city of Atlanta.

"Our hope is to get at least some community inspiration or involvement in the work that you're doing," Hosanna Fletcher with The Center told the students Tuesday.

The students will be here through March 20.

Students from Georgia Tech will also be visiting Covington during this time to work on a separate project involving greenspace preservation.

Allowing students to do this work is beneficial to the students themselves and the community, said Randy Vinson, a faculty member at the Design Studio and a local town planner.

"The students get real-world projects where they actually have to interact with the public," Vinson said. "The benefit to the community is they just have a fresh perspective on things."

Plus, "You never know where the next great idea is going to come from, and if it is inspirational to the right people, they can take off and run with it," he said, noting that it was students who came up with the idea for the Tennessee Aquarium during a similar program in Chattanooga.

The UGA Metropolitan Design Studio was founded in 2005 as a partnership between the Arnold Fund and the University of Georgia's College of Environment and Design with facilitation support provided by The Center.

Students participating in this year's session are Catherine Hawkins, Cesar Cuenca, Stephanie Nickell, Jonathan Warner, Margie Noonan, Ansley White, Blake Fortson and Jessica Hewett.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.