GAI Commitment Enhances OBT Next Community Development

After completing the award-winning OBT Next master plan project in Orlando, FL, members of GAI’s Community Solutions Group (CSG) have remained active as volunteers supporting educational and family-oriented activities that benefit local residents near and within the project area.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that we are not just planners, economists, and landscape architects,” said Tom Kohler, Economist and Sr. Director with GAI’s CSG. “We really care about the communities we serve—so when opportunities present themselves for us to commit individually or corporately to assisting neighborhoods become better places to live and work, that’s what we do.”

Afterschool Program for OBT Next Neighborhood Kids

Recently, members of GAI’s CSG took the lead in crafting an afterschool program for Orlando’s Pineloch Elementary School, which is located within the OBT Next master plan project area. “The program is an outgrowth of what’s usually called a STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] program,” said Kohler. “We added reading and art to the mix, resulting in our STREAM program. We saw a lot of interest at the recent open house we hosted for kids and their parents.”

Prime Time Family Reading
GAI’s Wes Shaffer (l.) and Ian Mancini (r.) at the Pineloch Elementary School STREAM open house.

For the open house on August 8, the CSG team devised an interactive program that issued a ‘passport’ to each student. The kids visited a series of activity stations, each presenting a different fun and educational exercise. “Each station represented a STREAM element—one each for science, technology, engineering, and reading, as well as a station that had an activity incorporating both math and art,” said GAI Assistant Planning Manager Jennifer Rafferty, primary coordinator for the Pineloch STREAM open house. Upon completing each exercise, a student received a stamp in his or her passport with the goal of getting their passport completely filled out, learning valuable lessons, and stimulating their interest in joining the program.

STREAM
GAI’s Andrea Penuela leads a learning activity at the STREAM open house.

“The kids were super excited,” said Rafferty. “Their enthusiasm really fed the team’s enthusiasm, and the kids themselves would come up with ideas that we hadn’t thought about. It was a true exchange of inspiration.”

The program is being offered on a weekly basis, and represents an ongoing commitment by GAI’s CSG team throughout the 2019-2020 school year. “The program was completely filled on the day of the open house, and now there’s a waiting list to get in,” said Kohler.

Pineloch Elementary School STREAM open house
Young STREAM open house participant takes a virtual view of reality.

Fostering Literacy and Family Interaction at Local Library

Funding help from GAI’s CSG helped sustain a valuable program called Prime Time Family Reading Time at Orlando’s South Trail Branch Library, which is located within the OBT Next master plan project area.

“I sit on South Trail Branch’s ‘Friends of the Library’ board, where I heard that the grant for these family reading events had run out,” said Kohler. “It had been a very successful program that brought families together to read and then discuss stories that involve kids and other family members dealing with real-life issues.”

Kohler worked with GAI’s CSG Senior Director Pete Sechler, PLA, AICP and Chief Economist Steven McDonald, MAAE, CVA to secure a substantial portion of the funding needed to sustain the program. Kohler coordinated with the Orange Blossom Trail Development Board—the client organization for the OBT Next master plan—for the balance of funding needed to sustain six weeks of Prime Time Family Reading Time programs that can accommodate 40 families.

“It’s just a great program that pays wonderful dividends,” said Kohler. “It offers a unique opportunity for interaction and keeping families engaged in the education of their children.”

Community Development for the Long Haul

As Rafferty sees it, GAI’s work on the OBT Next master plan and other development projects is just the start of a process that sets communities on a path toward sustained improvement.

“Our support for programs like these really demonstrates our commitment to the community—how our involvement continues beyond our projects’ ribbon cutting, keeping us connected to the communities impacted by our work,” Rafferty said

Kohler agrees: “This is all part of our due diligence toward community building. And when people know that you care about their community, you establish a trust that works to make them look to you for professional services. It’s not just good social work—it’s good business.”

Contact Economics Sr. Director Thomas Kohler, 321.319.3133, or Assistant Planning Manager Jennifer Rafferty, 321.319.3115, for more information on the urban design and planning, landscape architecture, and economics and strategy services provided by GAI’s Community Solutions Group.


Tom KohlerThomas Kohler has extensive experience in strategic planning and public policy, project implementation strategies, and public/private negotiations. Tom serves a number of communities as advisor on tax increment financing, strategic economic planning, incentive policies, and implementation programming. With some 26 years of experience in public service, Tom was an integral part of almost every major development project in the City of Orlando, FL through 2001.

Jennifer RaffertyJennifer Rafferty has extensive experience in land development, civil site drafting, and drawing preparation for commercial, mixed-use, municipal, and private-sector projects. She regularly prepares site plans, utility plans, grading and drainage plans, and construction details as part of construction document packages for various projects in the Central Florida and surrounding areas. She has also prepared Master Development Plan submittal packages for the City of Orlando and development plan packages for Orange County.

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