Spaulding is standing in back of what used to be the Lenlock Community Center — on top of what used to be the swimming pool, actually — which has begun its transformation into Anniston’s Longleaf Botanical Gardens.
The completed gardens are at least three years away, said Spaulding, chief curator for the Anniston Museum of Natural History. City workers, museum employees and volunteers have been working to refurbish the old community center in the seven months since the project’s official kickoff.
Volunteers from the Alabama Power Service Organization worked for a week, pulling out overgrown shrubs and trees, tilling flower beds and pressure-washing sidewalks.
The City of Anniston’s Public Works Department filled in the center’s swimming pool and tore out the tennis courts — a job museum officials estimate would otherwise have cost them $100,000.
It is there, out back of the old community center, where the two-story conservatory will rise. Behind it, terraced gardens will lead up into the woods, which will be threaded with trails for hiking and biking.
Off to the side, the old baby pool has also been filled with dirt. It will become a small bog garden, Spaulding said, planted with orchids and carnivorous plants.
In front of the building, Spaulding envisions even more. “Over there, that will be an aquatic garden. Over there will be a Chinese garden. ... there, children’s garden … and a wildflower garden.”
Inside the old community center, meeting rooms once painted a dark gray are now a cheery, subtle green. Ceiling tiles and floor-to-ceiling windows are being replaced. In one room, Spaulding pointed outside through a wall of windows: “This will overlook a gated courtyard — a photographer’s dream.” Across the courtyard will be a café and gift shop.
On the other side of the center, the gym is starting to look less like a gym and more like a giant party room. There will eventually be a stage in here, and windows and doors to the outside. There will be a catering kitchen and a bridal suite in the back, so the room can host festivals, parties, banquets, lectures and wedding receptions.
The city of Anniston has agreed to fund $175,000 for a new air-conditioning unit, as there is currently no AC in the gym.
That’s in addition to the initial $100,000 the city already budgeted for the gardens.
Even in their rough, preliminary state, the gardens are making a difference. The museum held its annual plant sale last weekend, and made $3,600 — more than triple what it usually makes. Spaulding credits the museum’s new greenhouse, one of the first items donated to the botanic gardens. The large greenhouse means Spaulding can house and propagate many more plants from the museum’s collection to sell to the public. So many, in fact, that the museum might have a summer plant sale, as well.
Lisa Davis is features editor of The Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555.