Still Rising: Updates on the West Broad Community Campus

It’s been a while since we’ve reported on the development of the West Broad Community Campus. And now we’ve got exciting news to share about it. So, we decided this was a good time for updates about — and an overview of — one of our community collaborations that has been years in the making.

Architects have been selected

First, the news: in mid-November 2021 a team of architects was selected to help campus stakeholders — representatives from different groups involved in the development of the campus and those it’s designed to benefit — decide on a final site for the campus and to begin preliminary design work on the campus itself.

The preliminary design work involves programming, which is the research and decision-making that will help the architects understand how neighborhood residents want the various parts of the campus to function and relate to one another.

The design team includes a lot of local expertise. Athens based Arcollab Architecture Collaborative, LLC and Koons Environmental Design, Inc. will do much of the building and site design work. Pratt Cassity, former director of the University of Georgia Center for Community Design, will help with engaging the community about the design criteria.

Jeff Bacon, an executive chef and cookbook author based in Winston Salem, NC and part of Catalyst Kitchens — an organization that supports nonprofits that provide pathways to jobs through a food service job training model–will assist with the design and set-up of the commercial kitchen that’s at the heart of the community campus project.

“It’s really exciting that this is finally happening,” said Heather Benham, ALT’s executive director.

What is a Community Campus?

A quick refresher: At a general level, the community campus idea is about a way to help people in low-income areas — often historically Black ones — preserve neighborhoods and important local institutions, celebrate local culture, increase access to healthy foods and give a space for local entrepreneurs to grow.

Based on extensive surveys and work with local residents, the West Broad Community Campus project was developed. This project will include: a new, permanent location for the well-loved West Broad Garden and Farmers Market, a fully-equipped commercial kitchen to support food-based entrepreneurs, and infrastructure for an array of youth and community programs.

The campus will include a permanent home for the West Broad Farmers Market, which provides infrastructure and coaching to help low-wealth people build small businesses, while bringing fresh food to a neighborhood with limited access.

Why West Broad?

But why locate a community campus in the West Broad area? One reason is that residents there got organized (more about that below). Another reason is need.

The West Broad neighborhood lies between West Broad St. on the north and Baxter Street on the south and is capped by Alps Rd. on the west and South Milledge on the east. The neighborhood is home to many of Athens’ historic Black institutions including churches, businesses and schools — and has remained politically, economically and culturally important in Athens to this day.

But there are problems. There’s a high poverty rate, and while not meeting the federal definition of a food desert, the neighborhood has a dearth of healthy food retail and other commercial investment, even as development pressures have been rising in the area. Nearly one in four West Broad households have no vehicle access, making the chain grocery store at the edge of the neighborhood relatively inaccessible. In sum, diminished food security, limited healthy food access, and a lack of resources mean that many low-income and other underserved neighborhood residents lack the ability to participate equitably in the local food system.

In addition, youth and families in the neighborhood have long identified the need for resources, programming, and jobs for young people.

“To finally have a place to learn…to have all the tools and resources in one place, will be awesome,” said Xavier Coates, a 20-year-old West Broad resident and crew leader for Athens Land Trust’s Young Urban Builders program who has been active in supporting this project.

Youth have been involved in the planning of the campus since early in the process. Young Urban Farmer Dontae Meadows (center) describes his experiences on a trip to Green Opportunities in Asheville, NC in May 2017. ALT coordinated nearly a dozen such learning trips.

Key Partners

Moving the idea of creating a community campus for the West Broad neighborhood closer to reality has taken a long time, and required the work of many partners.

A neighborhood desire to create a community commercial kitchen — the idea at the heart of the campus project — was discussed at least as early as 2005. In 2015, though, serious organizing for the project began when the West Broad Rising group was formed and started a grassroots campaign which helped secure funding from the Athens-Clarke County Government through a competitive grant process.

Other key partners include the Clarke County School District, the Athens Housing Authority, The Kendeda Fund and The Kresge Foundation — not to mention everyone who contributes to Athens Land Trust.

Next steps

So, what’s next for the project? There are a number of steps that need to be completed before ground is broken: selecting the site, securing more capital funding and selecting contractors. We’ll keep you posted on progress.