Florida Students Use Tech to Help Design New Downtown Hub

Students from the i3 New Tech Academy will get a chance to help design Palm Coast’s sprawling new town center, which will include an innovation district. Their design work includes using computer-aided design software.

by Shaun Ryan, The News-Journal / August 6, 2019
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(TNS) — The future of the city's "downtown" will one day be the responsibility of the next generation, so officials from Palm Coast and Flagler Schools are teaming up to prepare tomorrow's leaders for the day when they'll be making the decisions.

As part of a college and career class offered at i3 New Tech Academy, students will create designs for the development of Palm Coast's sprawling Town Center. They will work in teams with city experts to learn about the city's urban hub and its innovation district. They will take field trips and ultimately develop ideas for the area north of their school.

The i3 academy is a flagship of Flagler Palm Coast High School focused on collaboration and project-based learning.

"This is a one-of-a-kind experience for us to engage with the talented youth of our community to shape our future together," Palm Coast City Manager Matthew Morton said in a written statement. "Town Center is an important project and happens to be in the backyard of their school. Their ideas will plug directly into the mission to develop this core area into the citizen-centric, smart city that will carry Palm Coast into the next generation."

Learning by doing

Morton highlighted the program during the annual Palm Coast and Flagler Schools joint luncheon last week.

The student teams will each be presented with five acres of land and will decide how to use the space, where to locate businesses, residential areas and entertainment venues. They will answer questions on zoning, finance, development, demographics and building materials and meet a predetermined set of benchmarks. They will have to follow innovation district guidelines and the city leaders' vision for the future.

Their designs may be rendered three-dimensionally using computer-aided design software.

City officials have not said whether they will eventually incorporate any of the student designs into future plans.

The project will run through the fall semester, concluding on Dec. 16. Academy instructors Michael Rinyu and Brian Cox will teach the curriculum.

While the project will help students interested in pursuing a career in business or city planning, Rinyu said it also will offer all participants an economic understanding of their community.

"The idea's that ultimately these are the kids that are going to grow up in the community and hopefully start families here, work here," he said. "So the city wants input from them."

Retention of these future citizens is also a consideration. The district offers a number of specialized academies and flagships that prepare students for careers after graduation, but many will seek those careers elsewhere.

"How do we keep them here and make them want to stay here?" said Rinyu. "We're literally asking them, 'What do you guys want?'"

Prior to registration for 2019-20 classes, Rinyu's college and career class created materials to promote the project to prospective students. In pitching the course, some of last year's graduating seniors lamented missing their chance to participate.

"A couple of them asked if they could stay around for an extra year because they were excited about it," said Rinyu. "They thought that it sounded really awesome."

They weren't alone. After a faculty meeting where the idea was proposed, Rinyu seized the opportunity to teach it.

"I jumped on it and kind of told everybody to fight me for it," he said.

Creative solutions

When first described in 2003, Town Center was expected to provide housing for more than 5,000 people and jobs for 12,000. There were to be 2,500 multifamily homes, 1.4 million square feet of office space, 3.4 million square feet of commercial space, 640,000 square feet of institutional space, a movie theater, a hotel and a nursing home by 2020.

But development came to a halt during the 2008 recession, and today less than 20 percent of Town Center has been built.

Last year, Palm Coast officials launched the city's innovation district, an incentive program to encourage growth by offering developers credits to reduce impact fees. In February, the City Council approved a master plan to build a 233-unit multifamily complex on 27.1 acres in Town Center.

The city's vision for the area includes research institutions, high-tech employers, clean technology, creative start-ups and residential areas.

The i3 Academy project will offer the end users of Town Center a chance to create some innovative design solutions based on their own experiences.

Rinyu said he expects to see the students introduce some very "forward-thinking" ideas.

"It's always amazing what they come up with," he said.

"i3 is a great program that allows students to really work with their hands and their minds and to come up with ideas and follow through with them," said Flagler Schools Superintendent James Tager in a written statement about Wednesday's meeting. "Working with the city collaboratively in a sandbox to be able to come up with a vision where kids can have a voice along with the city is empowering for the entire community, not just the kids."

©2019 The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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