Plans moving forward for the former Grissom High campus to become a community center

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The former Grissom High campus will become a community center. Monday, city leaders revealed new details about what will be included.

The new Grissom High opens August 2 for the new school year. It leaves behind the old campus, which will change hands from the school system to the city in the next few weeks. The BIG Picture project has undertaken the master plan for the site. You can view the progress here.

At a community meeting Monday, city leaders and those involved in the site's future met to explain the latest.

"We are going to create a community hub here. We are hoping this will be not only a gathering place, and a place for people to connect. But sort of a downtown for south Huntsville that people can identify with," Huntsville City Council president Jennie Robinson said in an interview with WHNT News 19.

Robinson announced Monday that the new community complex will be called the "Sandra Moon Community Complex," after Councilwoman Sandra Moon. Moon died in 2013 during a battle with pancreatic cancer. She represented southeast Huntsville on the council from 1998 until 2010.

Robinson said she met with Moon before her death, and there she learned Moon was heartbroken she wouldn't be able to work with Commissioner Phil Riddick on the library project.

"I plan to offer a resolution to the city council naming this community complex the Sandra Moon Community Complex," said Robinson to a room full of applause.

"It will be a great monument to a woman who dedicated herself to south Huntsville for 12 years. She was a librarian; she loved libraries. But it went beyond libraries. It makes more sense to name the community complex for Sandra because she dedicated herself to all areas of the community and to quality of life for all of us."

The Library

The new Bailey Cove Library  will become the site's anchor.

Huntsville and Madison County will each contribute $2 million. The library needed to raise the additional funds to reach the $8.5 million goal. Today they need just $1.1 million more.

"This is going to happen," commented Riddick.

This new library is hailed as a technological one with wi-fi, computer areas, and lots of space. It will have 3-4 times the space of the current one.

"It's a great service to the community," said Carol Worsham, a supporter of the library, "for the children, for everybody. I'm looking forward to having a state of the art resource."

It will serve Jones Valley, Hampton Cove, and south Huntsville.

The Arts Center

The Arts community, through Arts Huntsville, will use the parts of the old school that dealt with the fine arts.

That includes the theater and some other parts of the facility.

Arts Huntsville's Executive Director Allison Dillon-Jauken said she is excited for the future. She said Arts Huntsville has long-identified needs for its members in the community that continues to appreciate the arts. She is looking forward to their having a dedicated arts facility housing the member organizations that includes a mid-sized theater with a smaller, more flexible theater space.

She said the members often need to book the Von Braun Center, the prime theater area in Huntsville, five years in advance in order to make sure they can use it. Having a mid-sized theater can help them battle the demand at the VBC.

Recreation Fields

The gym and other sports facilities, including ball fields, will fall under Huntsville Parks and Recreation.

Its director said Huntsville is in "dire" need of more courts and fields. He believes this will help. They want to open up the fields as quickly as they can.

He said they also plan to include 'pickleball,' a fast-growing sport in Huntsville, by adding more courts. Pickleball supporters cheered from the audience.

"We started with 30 people at the senior center and now we are almost at 300 members," said Cheryl Barnes, USA Pickleball Association Ambassador.

"To have a tournament, we need a central location," she explained. "It would bring in money for our city."

What's Next

The city still needs to take control of the property, which leaders believe will happen in August.

"That will mean the city can begin renovating the ball fields," said Robinson. "We will try to get them online as fast as possible to try to include them in Parks and Rec programming."

The campus' master plan, along with building design, are ongoing. Those still need to be completed, although leaders think they know what they are planning will work for the space.

Next comes funding. While library fundraising continues, the city of Huntsville needs to include some money for this project in its capital plan, which will come before the Huntsville City Council in September.

John Hamilton, City Administrator, said he would hope to see the "vast majority" of it funded in the FY18 capital plan if possible. The council will have the final decision, and it is possible it will take more than one year to fully fund.

The athletic fields will be step one, he said, along with the building demolition. They will need to tear down the parts of the former Grissom that they do not plan to keep.  That needs to happen before the library can be built. Construction is slated for spring 2018.

"Anything worth doing well is going to take some time. So this is a long-term project, it's going to be funded over a number of years," said Robinson. "