Planners, residents roll up their sleeves to work on the Big Picture for Johnson High School

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- Tuesday, the Big Picture focus turned to Johnson High School and its future.

The school will be empty come August, when its students will go to the new Jemison High School. That's currently under construction on the same campus as McNair Junior High School, and a Huntsville City School spokesman told WHNT News 19 it was still on-time for the move-in date.

After the city acquired the Johnson property, its future has been uncertain. What will be done with the empty building and property?

Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning, Dennis Madsen, said there's a lot to work with. The site is 47 acres. They've been collecting data from residents and concerned citizens, asking them what they'd like to see become of the property.

At a meeting Tuesday, Madsen revealed the results.

He said the most popular ideas included neighborhood offices, community-serving retail like a pizza place or ice cream shop, a small medical office, a pavilion, a senior living facility, and community gardens. He said there was less interest in things like a dog park or splash pad, and little interest in apartments or a triplex.

Huntsville resident Lee Wynn suggested, "Focus on health, and giving people an opportunity for maybe an after-school program... a farmer's market would be nice, because it's walking distance."

"Folks are really looking at neighborhood-scale uses," he commented. "Small-scale offices, things that can serve neighborhoods."

But there are also people who are looking back at Johnson's past to shape its future.

"If we have to have another facility built on this campus, then it would be nice if they could just keep a part of the campus for memory's sake," explained Johnson High PTSA President Michelle Watkins. "I definitely think we need to keep the gym. The baseball fields, and the football fields. In north Huntsville, we don't have a lot of places for our children to have their rec games and practices."

She's among the meeting-goers on Tuesday who remember Johnson's history, and want to keep part of that alive in any new plans.

"They want to have something to go on here that's going to still remind them that this history still exists," explained Dr. Richard Showers, Huntsville City Council member.

There has previously been a conflict about the new Jemison school involving those who wanted to see the Johnson name stick around. Opponents say once Johnson students head to the new building, the Johnson name will be gone. They're happy to have a chance to plan what's coming to the Johnson building.

"I want to see something that's going to be viable and long-term for my community," commented Watkins.