Students take the lead on projects to revitalize the community
The second project for the City of Thomaston in the University of Georgia’s Connected Resilient Communities (CRC) program brought UGA students and faculty to town to develop strategies for making the square and Thomaston Downtown Entertainment District more pedestrian and retail friendly.
“There’s tremendous opportunity here. With our location and bringing vibrancy and life back to downtown Thomaston, we are excited to be a part of
the CRC program and work with UGA students and faculty to continue the revitalization of downtown Thomaston,” said Taylor Smith, Thomaston economic development coordinator and chair of the CRC steering committee.
Thanks to Thomaston’s geography being directly between Atlanta, Columbus and Macon, the economy of the small Central Georgia town is growing. The city is working to make downtown a hub for that growth and has turned to UGA—through the CRC program—to address two specific challenges: pedestrian safety and façade improvements.
Safety is the top issue because U.S. 19, State Route 36 and State Route 74 pass through the center of town. There have been dozens of accidents over the past few years, with buildings repeatedly damaged when they are clipped by vehicles. This spring, a pedestrian was hit in an intersection and sustained injuries, raising the stakes even higher.
The UGA Archway Partnership, which administers the CRC program, brought in UGA engineering student Arthur Taran and UGA engineering professor Stephan Durham to help address the situation. Taran and Durham visited Thomaston and went to work researching traffic flow and challenges. Taran, under Durham’s advisement, developed a proposal to address the safety issues.
“There is tremendous value in working in a community on a real problem,” said Durham. “Applying classroom knowledge to a critical issue for a c
ommunity can be a profound experience for a student and the community receives a tangible benefit they might not otherwise be able to access.”
Taran wanted his plan to be ready for action so he connected with Georgia Department of Transportation and made sure to create plans that meet its standards. GDOT signed off on Taran’s plans, which he presented to at the city commission meeting in May. The commission has agreed to pursue the project.
“It’s one thing to have brick and beds damaged, it’s something else entirely when human lives are at stake,” said Mayor Pro Tem Doug Head. “This project will help us solve that problem. We are deeply appreciative of Arthur and thank you, UGA.”
Taran said he grew tremendously through this project.
“Working with GDOT, how to share ideas and apply my skills, and to do it all while helping a community, what an impact” said Taran. “I also learned that all it takes is one person who really cares, like Taylor, to look for ways to motivate the whole community. I’m glad I was able to be a part of it.”
The second part of the gold CRC project focuses on downtown beautification. Thomaston has established the Façade Grant Program to stimulate investment and exterior building improvements in commercial properties located in the Thomaston Downtown Development Authority (DDA) district. For downtown businesses to tap into this resource, they must provide a plan of work and renderings to the DDA.
UGA College of Environment and Design students are working collaboratively with Thomaston business owners, the DDA and the Historic Preservation Commission to provide quality renderings in alignment with the established vision for downtown Thomaston. These plans can be used by building owners to submit proposals to receive grant funding for the restoration.
Thomaston will receive the gold CRC award for completing these two downtown improvements projects.
CRC communities work with UGA Archway Partnership to develop a resiliency plan by engaging community residents, analyzing local data and completing three projects with the assistance of UGA faculty and students. Communities are recognized at the completion of each project with silver, gold or platinum award. Upon completion of all three projects, the community will receive the UGA Connected Resilient Community designation.
Thomaston received the silver designation for a housing assessment project completed with students from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
UGA’s innovative approach to rural engagement through the Archway Partnership earned the 2022 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The CRC program helps to broaden that legacy across the academic departments and further bring the resources of the University of Georgia into rural areas.
Learn more about the Connected Resilient Community initiative.
by Shannah Montgomery