The Skidaway Island “barn” structure was originally built in 1948, by Dorothy and Robert Roebling – grandson of Brooklyn Bridge designer John A. Roebling. Part of a cattle breeding facility called Modena Plantation, the 110 ft. diameter concrete and steel structure was intended as a showplace for national and international buyers attending their annual cattle auction. Stalls were built around the perimeter with nursing and holding stalls in the inner circle. Seating and a hay loft made up the mezzanine level, above the inner circle, and a grain storage silo with adjoining caretaker’s residence abutted the barn. In 1967, the Roeblings donated their property to the state of Georgia. The following year, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) was founded with a mission to conduct research in all fields of oceanography. The barn served primarily as refrigerated storage of marine specimens and staging area for the preparation of large research cruise equipment. The structure fell into disrepair, despite its historic and architectural significance.
Upon its incorporation into the University of Georgia in 2013, the need for classrooms and additional teaching laboratory spaces changed the dynamic of SkIO as a whole. Faced with severe budget limitations, repurposing the underutilized barn – never intended for human occupants – was considered. Funds for restoring and preserving the building were not available, however, using capital funds for educational spaces was possible. Thus, preserving the structure and gaining academic spaces became inexorably intertwined.
Limited funding dictated program priorities. Alterations included two state-of-the-art digital classrooms enabling instruction of students on the main UGA campus as well as sessions between Athens-based faculty with SkIO students. An instructional marine science laboratory with large observation windows permits visitors to view research and instruction in progress – serving as a means of public outreach, highlighting the workings of the Institute. The revitalized building also includes display areas featuring past and current research, as well as the history of the Institute and Skidaway Island. Rounding out the initial phase, faculty offices plus ample collaborative space for students and faculty to work together on projects serve to fulfill the objectives of this program. Eventually, as funds become available, the mezzanine will be transformed as additional collaboration space.
The barn has been reborn as a vital tool for the advancement of the Institute, enabling its staff to further the mission of the Skidaway campus and to continue to grow as it serves students, faculty, and staff.