This summer, Mercer began construction on the section of College Street that runs through campus in order to create a new green space similar to Cruz plaza. The project is estimated to be finished by late December.
The area will feature a central circular green space surrounded by brick walkways with various seating areas and a sand volleyball court. College Street will be closed to traffic, making it a pedestrian-only area with a new entrance on Coleman Avenue, the street that runs between Mercer and Tattnall Square Park.
According to Dr. Penny Elkins, senior vice president for enrollment management, Mercer's goal is to make that area of campus more enjoyable and walkable for students.
“It’s very intentional that we're pushing the parking out and making the green space more like the Mercer home,” Elkins said. “It's your community and that means we want it to be very pedestrian-centered and a gathering place for our students.”
Dr. James Netherton, executive vice president for administration and finance at Mercer, supervised the project. According to Netherton, ideas for the green space have been in the works for years.
He said the new design is partially based from experience developing Cruz Plaza in 2014. Before the plaza was built, a road used for maintenance ran in front of Stetson and tall hedges surrounded the walkway.
“It was quite unsightly,” Netherton said.
Mercer hired HGOR Architects, a planning and landscape architecture firm based in Atlanta, to redesign the area and create the central community space that Cruz Plaza is today. Since then, HGOR Architects have developed a variety of other landscaping projects on Mercer’s Macon and Atlanta campuses, including this year's College Street construction.
“When we did Cruz Plaza, we had the center of campus torn up for a whole semester and students had to walk around just like they're having to walk around this,” Netherton said. “But once we got it all done, it was well worth all the inconvenience and so forth. And this will be too.”
One of the reasons the project is difficult and time-intensive is because the water and sewage lines beneath College Street needed to be replaced before the project could get fully underway. In order to still have trucks transporting goods to and from the cafeteria, they broke the project into two parts. The first phase entails replacing the utilities on the side of Godsey, and then, once that side is completed and the road is finished, they will install utilities beneath the other half of the street closest to the Mary Erin Porter dormitory complex.
The construction poses an inconvenience for students trying to navigate the area, especially freshmen living in Plunkett's dorm rooms, who have to enter from the back of the building.
For Sahasra Maddu ‘27, the beauty of Mercer’s campus was one of the main reasons she chose Mercer over other schools. When she first moved in, she was surprised to see the construction.
“It looked like a wasteland,” Maddu said. “This wasn’t the first impression I wanted my parents to have about it either.”
At first, Maddu was worried about the noise, but she said it turned out not to be a problem. She also said that overall, she’s happy the area is being improved, because she’s heard that Plunkett dormitory doesn’t have the best reputation on campus.
“At the same time, I wish they chose a different time frame for it,” she said. “If they started a little bit earlier so it would have been close to being done when freshmen came in, that would have been nice. But yeah, I definitely think it should be worth it.”
Mercer student Jonny Greene ‘25 is excited about the construction.
“I think the more green space and less drivability, more walkability creates a sense of community across campus which I think is something Mercer needs because it has a small student body,” Greene said.
Greene also said his peers have voiced concerns about the lack of parking because the new green space will replace the parking lot in front of the Connell Student Center.
However, according to Netherton, parking spaces were added to the lot between Mercer Medicine and the Science and Engineering building to accommodate this.
“We added more spaces there in the center than we took out, so there’s a net gain in parking,” Netherton said.
In addition to the parking lot, the two buildings that stood between the Legacy and Plunkett dormitories were also torn down in the first phase of the construction. One building was used for Mercer’s TRIO programs. The other house belonged to the Giddens family, long-beloved members of Mercer’s community.
Elkins said that while she knew the decision was necessary, watching the Giddens’ house be demolished was still a difficult moment for her.
“They were an incredible part of Mercer's history and certainly Mercer legends,” she said. “They were one of the most important, if not the most important parts of my Mercer experience when I was a student.”
Thirty years ago, Howard and Gladys Giddens lived on the other side of the campus, on Adams Street. Howard was a pastor, and Gladys founded the Campus Baptist Young Women’s Organization. Dr. Godsey, Mercer’s president at the time, promised them that as long as they were living, they could remain on campus in that house.
When Greek Village was built, Mercer kept their promise, and moved the Giddens’ house to what was then the periphery of campus on College Street. Their house served as a meeting place and a home away from home for many students. As the years went on, Legacy dormitory was built and Howard Giddens passed away, but Gladys remained in the house for the rest of her life until she passed away in December 2020 at 103 years of age.
“Those are a lot of memories, not just for me, but for a lot of Mercer students of my generation,” Elkins said.
While bittersweet, Elkins said every decision made was for the wellbeing of Mercer students, and she’s excited to see the project’s outcome.
“Protecting our space for future generations, you know, that's really what we're all about here. We want the current students to have the best Mercer experience,” Elkins said.
The University said that the construction will be completed before Spring semester beginning in January 2024.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published with a subheading that, after deliberation among the Cluster's staff, was removed because of biased terminology.
Eliza Moore ‘24 is an English and Journalism student at Mercer University. She is now in her second year working as The Cluster’s News Editor after a semester abroad. She is currently producing work for Macon Magazine and Georgia Public Broadcasting in addition to her work with The Cluster. She loves breakfasts, the ocean, and all things related to writing.