Palatka residents shared their concerns about the new riverfront educational center Tuesday night at a public meeting.
Representatives from Georgia-Pacific, Le-Huu Partners and Malone Design/Fabrication spoke to about 30 attendees, who included advisory council members and Mayor Vernon Myers, in the Price Martin Center behind the Chamber of Commerce.
The $1.2 million center, tentatively called the St. Johns River Wetlands Educational Center, is part of a contract between Georgia-Pacific and the City of Palatka, said Jonathan Griffith, the Palatka project manager and grants administrator.
While the center is not part of the riverfront redevelopment plans, which include new event areas, river taxis, docks and parking facilities, it does meet the city’s goal of having a “living shoreline” while driving traffic to the area, Griffith said after the meeting.
“We are somewhat achieving or exceeding our expectations in our master plan,” he said. “From a redevelopment perspective, obviously we try to maximize commercial land.”
Residents were mainly concerned with the design of the building blending with the existing downtown area, maintaining the character and history of the St. Johns River and with the curriculum guidelines presented by Terry Hadaway, a public affairs manager at Georgia-Pacific.
Hadaway advised those who attended the meeting to contact members of the advisory committee with their concerns so they could relay the information to Georgia-Pacific, Le-Huu Partners and Malone Design/Fabrication.
Some of those present questioned whether the lessons would be able to meet core science standards, focus on the local history of the river and whether it would benefit Georgia-Pacific.
Diana Latta, a science teacher at Palatka High School, said it is important to make sure the center addresses specific threats to the local wetlands like industrial pollution and fertilizer runoff.
Hadaway said the curriculum, which targets students from second to sixth grade, was only a guideline at this point and while the issue would be addressed, each unit of learning was not meant to be a full year’s worth of information.
The building will tentatively take up about 4,500 square feet of air-conditioned space and have a plaza area. It will also house a gift shop that will provide economic opportunities for the free admission center, said Kha Lehuu, the project’s architect.
The advisory council met beforehand to hear a presentation on the design process and context of the building. Council members also discussed the guiding principles of the project.
Some were concerned about the language used in the principles.
Robert Virnstein, of Seagrass Ecosystems Analysts, said the center should only be about science and should be careful not to portray any particular “point of view.”
Laura France, the director of elementary education for the Putnam County School Board, said the center would be an attractive option for local teachers for field trips, but she said she was concerned about the amount of space needed for a large group of students.
Meetings about the building and design are open to the public.
The advisory council, which was selected by Georgia-Pacific, includes members from different local groups like the Water Works Education Center, University of Florida, St. Johns River Water Management District, Ravine Gardens State Park and the Putnam County School Board.
Myers said the project would be a great asset to the community and thanked the council members for their participation.
“We look at this to be part of a revitalization effort of our riverfront and our entire downtown area,” Myers said. “It’s very important for us that this project be successful.”