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Finally, the fort
Council approves renovation of Forsyth park facility
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VOTERS WERE promised a new outdoor venue when they approved the 1993 SPLOST referendum. After 15 years, of waiting, they just might get it.

On April 10, the Savannah City Council approved a contract to do major restoration, renovation and reconstruction work to the Forsyth Fort, a century-old landmark located in Forsyth Park.

The structure is a mock fort used by the Savannah Volunteer Guards for artillery exercises. It remained in use for military training until World War I.

Alderman Van Johnson noted that after so many delays to the project, many people are asking, “Is it really going to happen?”

City Manager Michael Brown said the fort was never meant to stand so long. “They didn’t anticipate when they built it that it would be there 100 years later,” he said.

“It has sat abandoned since 25 to 30 years ago. The roof got into bad shape, and there are drainage problems underneath it. The sewer line is in partial collapse. There are cracks in the walls. That’s caused a delay that I regret. Now we’re coming forward with a building that will be a true asset.”

While there are many exciting aspects to the plan, the most appreciated probably will be the public bathrooms. The plans also call for a green room, a visitors’ center, a small café and a platform built to accommodate a band shell that will be added later. In addition to creating a new gathering place, the added lighting at the fort will deter crime. A concessionaire, probably the Mansion on Forsyth Park, is expected to operate the cafe.

“It’s a difficult project, but we will end up with a high quality facility, one that’s very attractive,” Brown said.

Aldernan Jeff Felser said residents already are expressing concerns. “We want to ensure the building remains as secure as possible, as graffiti-free as possible,” he said.

Brown said it will take about a month to award contracts. A nine-month construction period is anticipated.

The new plan is different from the first version. “One of the things we discussed was a sit-down restaurant,” Brown said.

That would require installation of an elevator and fortification of the foundation. Brown said an analysis would be done at some point to determine whether or not the upper floor is suitable for a restaurant or other facility, which could be added later.

The council approved a contract with Southeastern Sales in the amount of $4.589 million for the work at the fort. That will include site work, concrete repair, some demolition, reconstruction and additions to the existing structure.

The first phase of another long-running public project, construction of the Ellis Square parking garage, is just about finished. “This phase of the project doesn’t include the square,” Brown said. “That will come later.

“It’s well known that Batson Cook is in litigation with the city on a portion of the project,” he said. “We’re not going to discuss that today, but there are some matters that need to be rectified.”

The council agreed to pay the contractor for three added items: rehabilitation of an area of Bay Lane that cost $374,799; additional waterproofing along the St. Julian Street corridor, at a cost of $81,436 for the installation of French drains and waterproofing for extra protection; and the purchase of parking control equipment at a cost of $77,386. However, the garage will be managed by a private developer, and that developer will reimburse the city for the parking equipment.

Bob Scanlon, Facilities Maintenance Bureau chief, said the planting of trees will begin as soon after construction as possible. Three buildings will be included in the square above the parking garage -- a men’s room, women’s room and a visitors center. An interactive fountain will be part of the square.

The garage will provide between 2,000 to 3,000 parking spaces. If work continues without delays, the garage could be ready for use by late June or early July.