If you are wondering what is going on with the construction plans, we’ve got a brief summary of what has been accomplished to date:

  • Purchase of 915 property – December 2015
  • Design plans submitted by TSW – May 2016
  • Construction manager, Frank Burdette, hired – August 2016
  • New renderings of garden path and Scott Blvd entrance – October 2016
  • Tree survey to be completed by Arborguard – November 2016
  • Construction plans to be finalized by TSW – mid-December 2016

We are very excited to finalize the construction plans. In order to provide more information on the upcoming work, Genia Cayce, Board member & Capital Campaign Co-Chair, took a moment to interview construction manager, Frank Burdette, so that we can all know what to expect in the coming months.

Genia: Frank, can we start by telling me a little about yourself, your background and why you were attracted to bid on the Woodlands project?

Frank: Sure. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of exploring the wooded trails near my childhood home in Pass Christian, MS. My interest in conservation was rooted in those experiences and led me to pursue a degree in Biology from Millsaps College (Jackson, MS). While an undergrad, I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity maintaining and repairing homes, and made the connection that preserving our built environment reduces our impacts on the natural environment.After a time of doing contract work on the MS coast, I pursued a graduate degree in Historic Preservation at UGA and met an Atlanta girl. Jennifer and I married in 2001, the same year I went to work for Gay Construction, and we settled down in Decatur, which won me over with its small town feel.

About that same time, I became a LEED-Accredited Professional and built Woodward Middle School, the first LEED certified school campus in Georgia. I embraced “green” construction and joined the Southface Commercial Green Building Services team in 2005. My first project there was to lead a consortium of 6 general contractors in constructing Southface’s state-of-the-art LEED platinum Eco Office.  As a green building consultant, I guided design and construction teams through a variety of projects ranging from higher-education at Georgia Tech to high-rise mixed-use in Dallas, Texas.

One of the more personally rewarding programs that I helped to develop and manage at Southface is Grants to Green, a partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, that identifies energy and water saving opportunities for nonprofits, and provides matching funds for conservation measures. Facility retrofits initiated through Grants to Green are currently saving metro organizations over $1M each year in operating costs. It was my work with this program that prompted me to launch my own consulting business in 2014 helping non-profits realize capital improvement projects with a long-term focus on programmatic needs and environmental stewardship.

Our family has enjoyed Woodlands (WG) for many years.  Since my daughter could walk, we have gone to WG to look for birds and immerse ourselves in the healing energy of the trees. It is a sacred space for us. I first heard about the project from Board member Mark Burnette and immediately threw my name in the hat. Another connection worth noting: I was the founding Board member of Lifecycle Building Center, the Atlanta nonprofit that deconstructed the Morse family home diverting hundreds of pounds of building materials away from the landfill, so I knew I wanted to be a part of the continued development of this important greenspace.

Genia: Wow, we are lucky to have someone who is so committed to environmental stewardship and talented at construction management!  What is your job description for the project?

Frank: Essentially, I will work with Woodlands to set a realistic budget, help to select the right professionals to implement the work, oversee the work to completion and develop a management plan to maintain efficiency once the project is complete.

For example, in this project, the consulting arborist role is critical because we want to be sure to get someone who understands Woodlands’ uniqueness in that we are preserving a thriving pocket of forest. Before we start anything, we need to think about how the canopy will be affected by every move we make. Everything from where to park the trucks, lay materials and put a shovel in the ground. I am spending a lot of time talking to arborists to select the one that will manage this process the best. I am literally responsible for speaking for the trees.

Genia: Can you provide a brief overview of the construction plans and a rough timeline?

Frank: As you know, the main focus of the work will be the corner property development. We will spend a lot of time making Woodlands more accessible through improved entrances, parking and driveway.

We will start with the storm water management infrastructure and parking. A few trees will have to come down in the process but we are working hard to minimize the number. Any wood will be re-purposed for different projects on site.

Next, we will build the new storage shed and transform the garage into an ADA-compliant restroom. Then we will convert a number of mulch trails into wheelchair accessible pathways and landscape the meadow and natural play area. I estimate the overall project will take 5-10 months, depending on availability of contractors. We will know for certain when we select a contractor in early 2017. We hope to break ground by March 1 and that the final plantings will go in by October.

Genia: What will Woodlands look like on May 15? Will people be able to walk through the Garden?

Frank: Woodlands will remain open throughout the project. There will be some earth-moving equipment and lots of orange mesh fencing but we plan to keep it contained to the smallest footprint possible so that people can still enjoy a walk through the woods.

Genia: I have seen the latest renderings and they are beautiful.  What are you most excited about in the final product?

Frank: My hope is that these improvements will bring more visitors to Woodlands. Many times when I tell people I am working at the Garden, they say “we have driven by but haven’t visited because we weren’t sure about the driveway, hours, etc.” I want these improvements to ensure that more of our community will engage with this wooded treasure the way my family has been doing for years.

Genia: Frank, thanks so much for your time and for the great work you are doing on behalf of Woodlands.

Some great news for our ‘Keep It Green Indie-catur’ campaign! Decatur’s city commission approved re-zoning of the one acre property on the corner of Scott Boulevard and Clairemont Avenue, from residential to institutional. In addition, on December 15th, Woodlands Garden closed on this 1-acre property! This purchase will allow easier visitor access from both Scott Blvd and Clairemont Ave, including enhanced signage, an expanded parking area, better access for school buses, and new walkways for pedestrians to reach the Garden’s trails. Also, very importantly, this purchase helps to preserve the land from future development.

Previous updates:

The design team is carefully orchestrating its plans for the corner property to minimize the number of trees impacted, while still meeting the need for centralized, safe and convenient visitor parking.The Garden’s visitor center will be updated to include accessible restrooms and a gallery space for art shows and events. As part of this renovation, a separate shed will be constructed for storage of tools and gardening supplies. A meandering, accessible landscaped walkway will guide visitors down to the Garden’s trails and to the open lawn area. A small porch will be constructed on the lawn for open-air music performances and other special events.

With the design process scheduled to be completed later this summer, construction on the premises should begin late this fall. Construction will be phased to allow visitor access to some areas of the Garden throughout the renovation process. The Garden renovation is tentatively scheduled to be completed in late 2017. For updates on the design and construction process please come back to this site (www.woodlandsgarden.org/construction) where we’ll post up to date images.

Plans include:

  • completing the visitor center and add public restrooms
  • improving parking and create a safe school bus drop-off zone
  • enhancing the site of the former Morse home, including added amenities for hosting community events


These improvements have been planned with the help of noted landscape architecture firm TSW to support increased public traffic without compromising the “haven” quality of the garden. To view more details of the master plan, visit here.

An AJC article detailed the City’s re-zoning approval, and you can read about it here.

Special thank you to these foundations for their support of the Capital Campaign making the improvements mentioned above possible:

  • AEC Trust
  • Anonymous
  • Bright Wings Foundation
  • The Imlay Foundation
  • James M. Cox Foundation
  • The Kendeda Fund
  • Patrick Family Foundation, Inc.
  • The Rockdale Foundation
  • Robert W. Woodruff Foundation
  • SunTrust Trusteed Foundation: Thomas Guy Woolford Charitable Trust
  • The Vasser Woolley Foundation
  • Waterfall Foundation