By Benjamin Morrison
March 4, 2021
“The right question is: what value does a well-designed facility provide to the residents of the city.”
At last night’s City Commission meeting, our leadership sent the following message to the residents of Fernandina Beach: The City does not place a value on good design. Unfortunately, this is a misguided approach that has haunted our community for as long as most can remember. Progressive municipalities around the globe have long understood that when they choose to invest in good design, it sets a precedent that trickles down through the rest of the community and creates an environment in which citizens have a sense of pride in their public facilities. It is time for our elected leaders to recognize this and provide our fellow residents with facilities that are worthy of the great community that we strive to be.
City staff, local historical experts, design professionals, concerned citizens, and members of the Friends of Bosque Bello have invested significant time and effort into developing the design concept for the new columbarium that was presented to the commission yesterday evening. The design itself was developed by the highly respected firm of Marquis Latimer + Halback, and represented the quality and attention to detail that we should expect from a facility to be placed in a location as important as the historic Bosque Bello Cemetery. Yet several of our commissioners chose to go down the same path of discussion that has led to disappointing public facilities for decades: can a solution be provided less-expensively by contracting directly with a manufacturer to design and install the entire facility, rather than investing in an independent design firm to develop a truly custom, unique, and site-sensitive solution for our community. As is always the answer, of course it can be. The problem is that the wrong question is being asked. The right question is: what value does a well-designed facility provide to the residents of the city.
I am providing two sets of examples to illustrate the differences in the product delivered to our community when a manufacturer is contracted to handle the design and installation of a facility versus when an independent Architect was used to develop a unique and context-sensitive solution. It is clear to see that there is no comparison between the two.
In both examples provided, the Architect-designed facility was able to be successfully funded almost exclusively through private donations primarily from folks right here in the city that saw the value they would provide. The manufacturer-designed facilities had to be funded entirely by the city. This is not coincidental. Our friends and neighbors want to see our public facilities reflect the standards that we aspire to be, and they are willing to put their own resources behind them to make that a reality. The supporters of the columbarium design that was presented last night understand that investing in quality design is a critical step towards ultimately being successful at raising private funding to help build the facility.
If city staff and the residents of our community can see and value the benefits of good design, why is it so difficult for our leaders to do the same?
Editor’s Note: Benjamin Morrison of Cotner Associates is a community volunteer and serves as Vice President of 8 Flags Playscape, a non-profit organization. 8 Flags Playscapes and the City of Fernandina developed three parks: Pirates Playground, Egans Creek Park, and the soon to open Simmons Road Park. Morrison was heavily involved in the design phase.