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Council approves new plans for historic Huntsville site

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – After nearly a decade of trying to decide how to best honor Huntsville history and alumni of William Hooper Councill High School on St. Clair Avenue, the Huntsville City Council has finally made what it considers a concrete decision.

The school was named after Alabama A&M University’s founder and closed due to integration in 1966.

There have been a multitude of ideas about how to best honor those who were educated there at the first public school for African Americans in Huntsville.

The city previously had an agreement with the housing authority and the alumni association, and had earlier embraced a plan to create an $8 million preservation and redevelopment project to include meeting rooms, a museum, and a community gym.

Thursday, the Huntsville City Council and the other parties agreed to terminate that agreement. The property is now back under Huntsville city control, and the new plan is to create a park at the school site.

“People become nostalgic and that nostalgia costs,” council member, Devyn Keith, said of the former plans. “But I really wanted the [alumni] association to have something that they could cut the ribbon on in 2018.”

City planners created these conceptual renderings of what could take shape at the site.

“We see a pavilion, a water feature, and structures that will memorialize those kids and individuals who graduated from there,” state Keith. “We want to memorialize the legacy but also put a stamp in the community that will live forever and will show the history of Huntsville.”

But this means tearing down the old school.

Alumni say they are ok with this plan, though.

“If there are any questions, we are in full support,” said Brenda Chunn, President of the William H. Councill Alumni Association to the council. “We really want to be a resource in Huntsville, a positive resource. And we’d like for our historic school to be a resource as well.”

“The most important thing is that we wanted the Alumni Association to be sure they’re satisfied with it,” said Battle. “They’re satisfied with it, and if they’re satisfied with it then I want to work with them.”

Keith added that the design will hopefully include some materials from the old building. He said this plan is more realistic and pragmatic than those before it.

Mayor Tommy Battle said it is good to have something concrete, now.

“Now, we’re going to have green space there and it’s an achievable plan,” Battle said.

Previous redevelopment wouldn’t have been feasible here anyway, noted Keith and later, city attorney Trey Riley. The city needed to move on for several reasons, including the state of disrepair in which we see the school today and the challenges of the site. City leaders say they went with a different plan in order to get started sooner, rather than later.

“If we waited a long time to do the building that we were talking about doing, we’d still be waiting because we’d have to raise money. The alumni, the community have to raise money. We would be 6, 7, 10 years before we would ever be able to do anything,” said Battle.

“Even if it was feasible, it would have to have been stretched over much of a decade. I don’t think that would be effective and efficient,” said Keith.

Keith said he is excited to see something at the site that the community can enjoy as a whole.

“This is not a district 1 project. This is not for a certain creed or culture, or even single community. This is a city of Huntsville project,” explained Keith.