1940s cattle barn gains new life as classroom and laboratory building

A 71-year old cattle barn will be reborn as a  modern classroom and laboratory building in a dedication ceremony on Oct. 22 at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography on Skidaway Island, Ga. University president Jere Morehead presided over the ceremony, which capped the year-long renovation of the reinforced concrete and steel beam structure.

The ceremony will also include comments from Don Waters, who represents the First Congressional District and serves as chair of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, and UGA-Skidaway Institute Department of Marine Sciences graduate student Kun Ma.

With the support of the Chatham County Legislative Delegation, the Georgia General Assembly appropriated $3 million in 2016 to remodel and repurpose a cattle barn on the Skidaway campus into functional laboratory and classroom space. The renovated building will be called the Ocean Sciences Instructional Center.

The center contains two state of the art digital classrooms. These can be used by Skidaway Institute-based Department of Marine Sciences faculty to teach courses that include students on the main UGA campus in Athens, or for Athens-based faculty to teach students at Skidaway Institute in courses such as marine microbiology, biogeochemistry, quantitative methods in marine science, and physical oceanography.

The interior today

The building also houses a teaching laboratory and prep lab designed to support up to 20 students. The intentional design of the lab includes a large observation window that will allow visitors to watch research and instruction in progress. It is named for the late Albert Dewitt Smith, Jr., a UGA alumnus.

The Albert Dewitt Smith, Jr. Observational Laboratory

In addition to several faculty offices, the Ocean Sciences Instructional Center offers ample collaborative space for students and faculty to work together on projects.

The building now known as the Ocean Sciences Instructional Center was originally built in 1948 by Robert and Dorothy Roebling, who operated a cattle breeding facility they called Modena Plantation.

The barn’s interior circa 1948

The Roeblings designed the barn as the venue for their annual cattle show that attracted buyers from around the country and Europe. They built a round structure, 110-feet in diameter, with a ring of stalls around the perimeter, and nursing and holding stalls in the inner circle. It contained a second deck for hay storage and auction seating. At one end, there was a small silo with a feed mixing room and an attached apartment for a herdsman. In 1967, the Roeblings donated their property to the State of Georgia to become the home of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

Since Skidaway Institute took over the property, the barn has served primarily as storage and as a place to prepare large pieces of equipment for research cruises or deployments.

UGA Skidaway Institute has maintained ties to the Roebling family, and several family members are expected to be on hand for the dedication.

One of the Roeblings’ sons, Wainwright “Rip” Roebling, described the barn as his father’s pride and joy. “I know Mother and Dad would be very proud of it, just as we are.”

The architect for the Ocean Sciences Instructional Center was Cogdell/Mendrala. The construction manager was New South Construction.

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