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Decatur Diary | June 28, 2018

Unified Concept Emerges for Children’s Home Property

The Decatur community took another step forward last night in its master planning process for the former United Methodist Children’s Home property — arriving at a single, unified concept for the 77 acre site’s future uses and programming.

The unified concept was largely distilled from feedback collected on the three previous options presented in late April, and from further feedback during an online survey in May to gauge community preference levels for both the designs overall and their individual pieces.

Invariably, given the limits of the property, choices were necessary. Survey scores and the degree to which the various components could meet the community-identified principles developed during the process guided the team in its determinations. This was not without its challenges. Stakeholder meetings with non-profit organizations, schools and institutions, and similar community partners helped the City better understand what makes specific facilities or uses successful and implementable. These discussions grounded the unified concept in reality, especially as it relates to construction and maintenance costs, operational management, design and use requirements.

View the consultant team’s presentation here, then dig into some details below.

The Plan

In characteristic Decatur fashion, the unified concept plan reflects the city’s desire to serve as many members of the community as broadly as possible by prioritizing future uses and programming identified by the community during the process: greenspace; a track and field facility; a variety of housing options to serve people of different circumstances; and an amphitheater.

Together with those priorities are other components that also foster the project’s principles — community space for all; preservation and enhancement of the campus; sustainability and connection to the broader community; and a wide range of uses. These include an orchard, farmer’s market area, cross-country recreational trails, wooded trails, renovation of the dairy barn, a boat dock on the lake, playgrounds, multi-use connectivity, a “creative village” of working studio space, and more.

Through these guiding principles, the unified concept honors the significance of the former United Methodist Children’s Home as a place to support children and families and values the work that we have done together to envision a place that will become a community asset for generations to enjoy.

A big picture overview of the proposed plan with a number of visualizations are shown here. Greater detail and further context can be found in the download and video referenced above.

Overview of the Unified Concept Plan. Click for larger view.

Boat dock with refurbished dairy barn. Click for larger view.

Creative Village. Click for larger view.

Farmer’s Market. Click for larger view.

Greenspace trails. Click for larger view.

Meadow and arboretum. Click for larger view.

Multi-use pathway along Columbia Drive. Click for larger view.

Wooded trails. Click for larger view.


Inherent in any master planning process are not just the physical constraints of the property but the program’s financial constraints as well. Or, as consultant Geoff Koski reluctantly reminded the crowd, “There’s no such thing as a free park.”

The present, unified plan has been developed in deference to these constraints, then phased realistically over a 20 year span, but it’s important to remember that at the time of its anticipated adoption this fall, it will reflect largely unfunded ambitions.

The city has budgeted for the acquisition of the property and its ongoing maintenance costs. Anything beyond that will require other sources of funding. Some of this funding will likely be appropriated each year as part of the city’s operational budget but much of it will require other funding mechanisms, such as partnerships with affiliate organizations who share common interests to help implement new facilities and uses identified in the plan.

How those funding mechanisms materialize, and how quickly they can be accessed, will be perhaps the most pressing factor in how the plan ultimately moves forward.

What Comes Next?

A common question in the development of long-term planning is, “So is this the final plan?” To which the answer is invariably both yes and no.

Yes, it’s essentially final in the sense that it has whittled months of input down to a singular unified concept and that vision is the one largely expected to go before the City Commission this fall. And yes, it’s generally final in its anticipated big picture phasing derived from the financial and operational constraints we have to work within.

But no, it’s not entirely final because, within that phasing, there are still determinations to be made as to the priority of the individual initiatives — the order of what we pursue and how we get it done. This was the focus of last night’s breakout activities and will also be reflected in an online survey to be released next week for the benefit of those unable to attend the meeting.

Once the implementation strategy is fleshed out, a presentation will be made to the City Commission this fall. Once adopted, that will be the final plan.

Stay tuned for continuing updates. In the meantime, below are some pictures from last night’s meeting. Click any image to launch slideshow viewer.

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  1. Well thought out compromise. I hope they start with the cross country path, low budget item that can serve many. And here’s hoping they keep it natural. Concrete and asphalt rule our lives. The possibility (luxury) of having a mulch path would be wonderful. Lullwater has a nice section but this would be fantastic. If the decision in the future is to pave, perhaps another compromise can be had. Half pave half natural. The beltline is currently creating its own “natural” goatpath for runners adjacent to the pavement.

    • Angela F. Threadgill says

      Thanks for the comments! Those trail portions within the dedicated Conservation Easement would remain natural, as impervious surfaces are restricted in this 22-acre area.

      • How many linear feet is the total cross country trail and how many within the 22 acres? Please consider a portion of the overall trail, including the portion outside of the 22 acres, to be constructed and maintained as natural. Natural trails will become more and mire desireable as our concrete jungle grows around us.
        The physical aspects of running on natural ground as opposed to asphalt or concrete cannot not be underestimared. Unless you have the money for the cushioned paving which is probably cost prohibitive.

  2. Penny Mason says

    Very pleased with this concept for the childrens home property. Love the farmers market space, and hoping there will be adequate parking for that. Very happy about the pond and boating access with canoes and kayaks. I do think the nature trails and hiking and jogging paths will be very well used.

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