Roanoke County students help design future of Route 419

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS 10)-- Roanoke County is working to revamp the Tanglewood Mall area as part of the Reimagine 419 Project. Project leaders are looking for input from all community members, including one group that is rarely asked their opinion on such major topics-- high school students. Students at Roanoke County's Burton Center for Arts and Technology will be presenting their ideas for the future of Roanoke County at Wednesday night's planning workshop.

Armed with a giant map and color coded stickers, the students are able to recreate the Tanglewood Mall and Rt. 419 area. They're adding in new restaurants, green spaces and parks and new residential areas. The project manager says consulting with the students is a unique and important part of the planning-- as this is a space that will impact future generations.

"What we like is that collectively, we get a sense of what's important to them in their environment," says Steve Kearney, project manager of Stantec Urban Places Group. "Even though they're saying, 'We want a Starbucks,' we know the type of places they hang out and what they think is cool. That helps us understand how to design the first floor spaces in the building and how big the retail should be."

While many students make their suggestions based on the stores and restaurants they like to visit, others like Nick St. Pierre say they're making suggestions based on past experiences. Nick says visiting upgraded town centers in Richmond and Bethesda are giving him inspiration for the future of Roanoke County.

"Based off of what i've seen there, I can tell that Tanglewood is dilapidated and old," says the high school senior. "It can become [like the others] and bring together the Southwestern Roanoke community. It could have the potential to have the community engagement and intimate environment."

In just a few years, project designers hope the Tanglewood Mall area can become a community center-- with living spaces, restaurants and other shops, all in an area that is walkable for visitors. The upgrades led to a buzz of excitement in the classroom as students got to work, sharing their ideas and mapping out the future of this busy are of Roanoke County.

"I think they like the idea that people are asking what they think," says Susheela Shanta, the director of the engineering program at the Burton Center. "Typically, they don't get to provide input and that's the part that they are really enjoying about this."

The best ideas from these students will be presented to the community at Wednesday's design workshop, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood. These are ideas that students hope the community members and county planners pay attention to.

"Kids should step up and be active in their community," says Sarah Wilkin, a junior. "Even if it doesn't seem like it's applicable to them, it's important because the upcoming generations have great and new innovative ideas that can definitely be used."

Once this eight month study comes to an end in the spring, a master plan will be put in place. Kearney says the county will then work quickly to get the first phase of construction underway, proving to the community and future businesses the commitment to these changes.