S.J. Collins Enterprises

Students’ pocket park concept to be installed in Chamblee Whole Foods development

Students from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School Institute for Innovation’s (MVIFI) iDiploma program, recently participated in concepting site plans for an outdoor community space attached to an S.J. Collins development featuring Whole Foods as an anchor tenant in Chamblee. Their work was so well received by Jeff Garrison of S.J. Collins, he rethought the overall project and has since renamed it to Peachtree Station. (Formerly Peachtree Crossing).

The students spent time interviewing potential users of the ‘pocket park’, gaining insights about the preferences and priorities of their intended users and ultimately ended up distilling their insights into five potential designs. They pitched one “concrete and clearly constructed Sketchup modeled design,” and Garrison loved it. The project took the students four months to complete.

“Prior to working with MVIFI’s iDiploma, we spent a lot of time brainstorming something that caters to our primary demographic to add to this development,” says Garrison. “We couldn’t have taken such a deep dive into the Chamblee community without the students becoming experts on what residents identify with. MVIFI’s findings completely changed the way we were looking at our own project.”

Students in grades 9-12 in the iDiploma program, have the opportunity to engage in ongoing projects, which challenges them to design and implement ideas to enhance their local, national and global communities.

For the Peachtree Station project, Garrison delivered a “Design Brief” to the students. They went on site visits, throughly reviewed the project site plans and relied upon skills they have learned through the program in the areas of Ethnographic Research, Observation, Design Thinking and Project Management.

“I had no idea that the designs of parks in nearby areas were so much work to create,” Sophomore Maqueline Weiss proclaimed. “It’s not just about mashing together a bunch of ‘really cool’ elements. The way we approached it was to get to know the community and the needs they had that they may not have even realized. It was up to us to sift through our user insights and create something that we think has meaning and value to the city of Chamblee.”

According to Meghan Cureton, Director of Innovation Diploma at MVIFI, three of the nine students that worked on the Peachtree Station project have expressed interest in continuing to explore architecture as a career path. “Some people would have low expectations for the work a group of teenagers could produce, but Jeff actually had the highest expectations – and standards – for our students,” notes Cureton. “It’s those kinds of high expectations that I believe everyone should have for our youth because they absolutely can deliver well crafted solutions to some of our community’s most pressing problems if we just give them the chance. I am grateful that Jeff gave them that chance.”

“It was really powerful to be in a position where I was seen as more than a student. I don’t get that feeling when I am presenting to my teacher, but I definitely felt that when we presented to Mr. Garrison because the stakes were so much higher,” adds Sophomore Maxine Peterson.

While the Peachtree Station project is not scheduled to be completed until the first quarter of 2017, site prep is well under way and the students are proud their hard work will be incorporated and go from paper to reality. Senior Jackson Dalton said, “It was one of the proudest moments for me in my high school career. And I can’t wait to actually step foot on the space that we helped create.”


Peachtree Crossing project, renamed to Peachtree Station, an S.J. Collins project in Chamblee featuring a 45,000 sq. ft. Whole Foods Market as anchor. Image: S.J. Collins