Groundwork for a Legacy: Master Planning for Tribal Facilities

Source: FSB


The Groundwork
In 2013 Choctaw Nation leadership invited architects and engineers from FSB to visit land the tribe had begun developing for use by tribal leadership, employees, members and cultural tourists. The tribe was considering enlisting FSB’s master planning services to guide future construction at the site. So far two buildings had been completed, a Community Center and a Child Development Center. A third, a Food Distribution Center, was under construction.

“When the Choctaws first met with us, the vision for the project hadn’t yet been determined. They didn’t have a firm grasp on what functions the site would serve, how many people it would need to support, or how many and what size of buildings they would eventually need,” Holuby said.

“We had the opportunity to say ‘Let’s take a step back and think about what you really want this project to be.

What image do you want to convey to the public and to tribal members? Who needs to have input into the project, how to we make sure that those voices are heard, and how we can meld all of those influences into a thoughtful and solution that not only provides the necessary building space and site amenities, but also incorporates the bigger picture goals and values and of the tribe so that the project is meaningful for generations to come?’

At those early meetings, I’m sure that none of us realized how large and important this project would eventually become.”

Major growth needs a master plan
As a firm with experience in many industries and markets encompassing both architecture and engineering disciplines, FSB has created dozens of master plans. It’s not uncommon for a client to be surprised about the level of introspection inherent in the process. In order for a master plan to serve its purpose, architects and engineers need a clear picture of the organization’s goals for the project, along with a deep understanding of its history, mission and organizational structure. From a physical perspective, they must understand the preferred design aesthetic as well as wayfinding, safety and parking needs. From a business perspective, planners must also understand each group’s workflow and anticipated growth to design spaces that facilitate collaboration and flex with future needs.

Holuby said he would recommend master plans for any organization that has significant building needs or anticipates phased growth over time. Master plans encourage tribes to make thoughtful decisions about current and future programs and facilities and provide guidelines that ensure the greatest potential for smart and successful growth. Comprehensive master plans typically factor in future needs for utilities such as power, communications, stormwater control and heating and cooling alongside building space to ensure an organization has the right infrastructure in place to support future growth. The firm also creates more specialized master plans that focus on specific aspects of a site, like utilities or landscaping. For example, the Chickasaws enlisted the firm’s expertise to create a master plan for the botanical gardens at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.

In his role, Holuby said he has observed tribes, in many cases for the first time, finding themselves in positions where they have the resources to be intentional about master planning as their economic development capabilities increase. He said master planning is well suited for tribes because of the depth and breadth of services they provide to their members. Tribes often have many stakeholders including tribal leadership, member committees, key elders and representatives from each arm of government or social service affected by the plan. It is FSB’s responsibility to uncover each stakeholder’s vision and needs for the project.

“As a Principal, I try to be the voice of the client when working with others at our firm to produce a master plan,” Holuby said. “Typically large groups of stakeholders are involved, and we interview each one. Different stakeholders can have different opinions. We really pride ourselves on factoring in each stakeholder’s input, combining this with our insight and experience, and synthesizing it into a plan everyone is happy with.”

Helping the Choctaws plan their Path Forward
After Holuby and his team met with tribal leadership, FSB presented a detailed plan to the Choctaws called “The Path Forward”, which packaged the initial goals for the project and defined the process for gathering all of the information needed, completing the necessary studies and analyses, exploring the options, developing the concepts and gaining the appropriate approvals to create the master plan.

From here, the team met with each Choctaw stakeholder group, incorporated feedback and worked for the next nine months to develop the detailed master plan that would guide the tribe in its decision-making, design and construction of each future building. Based on the current and anticipated operational needs, the plan called for the design and construction of seven buildings: a Headquarters Building, including a Café and Conference Center, a Data Center, a Wellness Center, a Facilities Maintenance Building, a Clinic, a Health Administration Building, and a Parking Structure. Each building would be sized to accommodate the projected 10-year growth, and the site planned to accommodate 50-year growth and beyond. Buildings are in various stages of design and construction, and all structures in the initial phase are expected to be complete by early 2018.

The design also included plans for thoughtfully developed outdoor spaces between buildings. “From a cultural perspective the Choctaws, and really all tribes, have this very strong connection with the land,” Holuby said.

“As you’re walking from building to building on campus, we’ve incorporated elements like native grasses and plants, tribal symbolism, artwork and signage discussing the history of the tribe and key tribal members, creating interesting points that guide you through the site.”

Holuby said the time his team spent learning about the tribe was a key to creating the master plan. The effort did not go unnoticed. “In the end, the feedback that they keep giving us is my favorite thing to hear, ‘We appreciate how much you listened, and how you took all of our ideas and turned them into a beautiful and culturally significant design that meets all of our needs,’” Holuby said. “To me, that’s what master planning for tribal facilities is all about. The Headquarters Campus grew into a legacy project for the Choctaws, with an amazing site and culture incorporated into the master plan. This is going to be their permanent location and a statement to the world about who they are.”

Interested in learning more about FSB’s master planning process and how it can benefit you, contact: Native American Market Principal, Jason Holuby, AIA, LEED AP BD+C at or directly at 405.840.2931

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