HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Construction is officially underway on the new Jemison High School and McNair Junior High School. Crews broke ground in a ceremony on Friday morning.
Former astronaut Mae Jemison delivered an inspirational message, even as protestors across the street yelled messages of frustration.
Jemison, a Decatur native, is the first female African American to go to space.
“I am so proud to be here with this commitment that Huntsville is making,” said Jemison. “This commitment to say our kids are worth putting our funding behind, putting our energy behind, putting our hopes and dreams behind them.”
Jemison spoke directly to the students at the ceremony, challenging them to get all they could out of this new school. It’s expected to be complete by August 2016, and so is McNair Junion High.
“I’m going to tell the students standing here… I expect you to do good things,” Jemison said.
Jemison also reminisced about Ronald McNair, the namesake of the new junior high school, who she said talked with her before she joined the astronaut program.
McNair died in the 1986 Challenger accident.
“He was a very very well-rounded person. He was exceptional not just mentally, but also in the amount that he would give to people and the time and the energy,” she said.
Meanwhile, across the street, some north Huntsville residents voiced complaints about the name of the school, its location, the district’s rezoning plan, and the lack of attention, they say, north Huntsville has gotten from city leaders.
“I’m here to be speaking up for my community. It’s not about a name, it’s about equality,” said Michelle Watkins.
District officials plan to close Johnson and Butler High Schools and have those students attend the new $65 million high school.