A 'Major' opportunity: Trotter Center renovation is a big step for young homegrown architect

October 12, 2013 11:33:12 PM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Major Andrews IV is a third of the way through the design process for what will be a refurbished Trotter Convention Center.  


This is just the second project he's putting his name on since he started his own firm, Major Design Studio, this past January, but he is drawing on his previous experience working with Columbus architecture firm Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel and Atlanta's Pieper O'Brien Herr as he takes on the most important project of his young career. 


The renovations will include updating the flooring and ceiling of the entire building, upgrading the auditorium's sound system, adding a courtyard near the main entrance as well as restroom facilities to the existing courtyard and installing an elevator and new lighting. 


Schematic design, the first stage of Andrews' process, was completed last month. He is now in the design and development stage and will proceed to the final construction documents next month. The city will begin a 45-day bidding process once that is complete. 


"Our next step is nailing down finishes and getting that finalized," Andrews said. "Other than that, we're cranking along. Everything seems to be working out well." 




Setting the foundation 


Andrews, 34, said his interest in architecture began when he was an eighth-grader at Columbus Middle School. That interest was heightened when he arrived at Columbus High School and took a mechanical drawing class under now-retired Dan Briggs. It was in that class that Andrews found his passion. 


"At the beginning of a class (Briggs would) instruct us on what we were going to be learning. He'd show us how to do it. The second half of the class was actually drawing. He'd come by our desk and critique us on what we needed to do better," Andrews said. "Our final project of the year was to do a house plan. He just worked up during the semester to that final goal. I enjoyed how he taught ... and gave us real things to work on." 


That foundation helped him receive a scholarship at the University of Tennessee and gave him a head start when he got there, he said. 


"Once I got to college, I had that experience and it helped me because the first year, that's what you do. You have a lot of drafting classes," Andrews said. "A lot of teachers were pleased that I had that background." 




Staying well-rounded 


During college Andrews interviewed at a firm in Philadelphia, Pa. He talked to a family friend who worked there and realized he didn't want to be pigeonholed into a corner, repeatedly designing the same mundane projects. 


"She told me she was working on a stair detail to a large building for two or three months," he said. "That's all she did." 


After graduation, Andrews returned to Columbus and got an internship with JBHM. There, his first projects were three day-care centers. Happy with the direction was going, he still felt he was lacking because he wasn't able to see the project through to their completion.  


"When I was here, my first projects, I didn't get to see them built," he said. "I said I'd like to get field experience so I could see what I'm actually drawing and why. When we did (the American) Eurocopter (military aircraft manufacturing plant in Lowndes County), I got to go back and forth on Eurocopter." 


Before moving on to Atlanta, he got the chance to work on a project from start to finish on what was planned as a Kia dealership in west Starkville. Although the dealership never opened, it is ready to be used. 


In Atlanta, Andrews had a hand in projects ranging from churches to banks to retail spaces, including a Caterpillar dealership. At one point, he asked his supervisors at Pieper O'Brien Herr to let him take part in a project for CarMax, the world's largest used car retailer. He joined a team at the firm that exclusively did projects for that company. 


"They do about 10 to 20 a year," he said. "I got on the team and did a CarMax (design) with them and found out they did things differently ... It was nice to get a feel for every type of project out there. It helps me now." 


Back in Columbus 


Andrews said he's glad to be back in his hometown and to be able to start his own firm here. 


Earlier this year, his first project under his new studio was a design for an 11,500-square-foot gymnasium for Happy Start Day Care in Macon. Andrews said the facility will be able to seat more than 100 people and will house a classroom, technology lab, library and kitchen. 


"It's under construction, so I just went there today," Andrews said Friday. "I was surprised at the amount of work I'd be looking at doing at first. I didn't know there was still a need of people still building with the economy like it was, but I've been getting calls, sitting in proposals and doing presentations. I can't complain for the first year." 


The accountability is greater when you have your own firm, Andrews said, but it's also more fulfilling to have more interaction with clients throughout the design process. Andrews hopes to build on the relationship with the city of Columbus that started with winning the bid for the Trotter Center. His firm will be paid $80,000 to design the renovation, four percent of the $2 million the city budgeted for the downtown facility's face lift. The amount budgeted for construction is $1.65 million.  


"It's nice to see it from conception to completion," he said. "The owner has to be responsible for it at the end of the day, but I enjoy getting out and meeting people and helping the communities come up with their idea, their dream. They take it personally and they enjoy it when you make it a personal item for yourself to see it completed."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.