Discovery Center vision on paper | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | March 31, 2016 5:00 pm
Last Updated: March 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm
By GEORGE SALSBERRY
When the Friends of the Great Swamp (FROG) needed someone to put their dreams and desires for a new Discovery Center for the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary on paper, they went to Beaufort-based architect Rob Montgomery.
Montgomery, who operates Montgomery Architecture and Planning, was put to work because, City Manager Jeff Molinari said, “the city needed to get something down on paper for city council.” Montgomery’s work, Molinari explained, “represents FROG’s ideas and concepts.”
Montgomery presented his conceptual plans to the members of FROG at their March 1 meeting. On March 22 he presented them to the members of Walterboro City Council.
Several years ago, FROG, on behalf of the city, used grant money from the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development Department to purchase the vacant building at 100 S. Jefferies Boulevard which originally served as a car dealership.
The 1.5 acres of land and the 6,500 square foot building were purchased to become the long-sought discovery center for the Walterboro Wildlife Center. The building is approximately 1,200 feet from the West Washington Street entrance to the sanctuary. Included in Montgomery’s plans are a trail that would lead from the discovery center to the West Washington Street entrance.
Montgomery, in the packet of information and drawing prepared as part of the conceptual plan, wrote that FROG envisions “a facility which informs the public (both residents and visitors) to the wonders of the sanctuary and all the environmental jewels of the Lowcountry.”
This, he explained, “would be accomplished by providing display and exhibit areas for static and dynamic exhibits; developing flexible areas which can serve as a venue for community entities and functions and utilizing the natural topography of the site to develop an amphitheater.”
Montgomery said that he believed that the building would adapt well to FROG’s plans, adding that the structure was generally in good condition, although the foundation in the southwest corner of the building needed some attention.
Montgomery told council that he envisioned what had been the vehicle showroom facing Jefferies Boulevard being transformed into three different exhibit spaces. The lower level, which had been the service center, would be transformed into a community venue that could be rented for functions. His plans for the service center area include installing a warming kitchen.
After putting FROG’s hopes and desires down on paper, Montgomery set about coming up with a rough estimate of the cost of repurposing the building and land. He predicted turning the dream into a reality would have a $1.5 million price tag.
Councilman James Broderick asked Montgomery approximately how many people the amphitheater would hold. Montgomery said the terraced area would be able to seat approximately 250 people with the surrounding lawn area doubling the capacity.
Broderick then asked about the seating in what had been the service center of the dealership and was told if tables and chairs were used, the space could seat approximately 150.
Councilman Paul Siegel asked if the FROG members had discussed dividing the project into stages. Montgomery said that he believed that the work on the building would need to be done at the same time, but that the building and amphitheater could be done independently.
Mayor Bill Young said FROG was now handing the discussion over to the city’s staff and council members “to develop this into what we want it to become.”
Councilman Jimmy Syfrett added FROG members “had spent a lot of hours to get to this point.”
Following the council session, Molinari said the city’s Accommodation Tax and Hospitality Tax has some debt capacity that could be used to help cover the costs.
Earlier this year, the city was awarded a $50,000 grant from the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor to assist in translating the Discovery Center dream into a reality.