The Department of Human Resources is the first agency that has shown interest in moving to the former mill property, but considering the city is still working on getting the brownfield site declared clean, it’s a sign that it may fill up fast.
“This probably will be the first,” said Anniston City Planner Toby Bennington. “That’s very good. When you can move this quickly, particularly when you are getting a brownfield cleaned up, this is what the EPA and ADEM and of course the city, this is what we like to see.”
The creation of the Anniston Public Building Authority at the City Council's last meeting laid the groundwork for the new DHR building.
“They’ll issue the bonds, and they’ll be responsible for the financing of the project,” said City Manager Don Hoyt. “Then, they’ll be responsible for paying it back.”
It’s early in the process. The contractors cleaning up the Chalkline site are still doing testing to make sure the property is clear of the hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants left by the former factories that used it. After that, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has to approve the contractor’s final report and sign off on cleanup concurrence. Getting the approval will probably take another 30 days, Bennington said.
The city is moving forward with its plans, though, and will sit down with DHR representatives in the next couple of weeks to discuss a preliminary site plan, he said.
“Now that the Chalkline site, for the most part, has been cleaned, then one of the first steps is we’ll do a topographical survey, and then we will do a preliminary site plan,” Bennington said. “I have started to work with our consultants who are involved with the cleanup and the master planning work to start looking at some initial numbers.”
The city will construct the building with proceeds from bond sales and then pay the bonds back with rent collected from DHR, said Councilman Ben Little.
The project has been a joint effort of the county, the state and the city, he said.
“I think it’s an example of what could happen in our community if the elected officials sort of get together and just want to do what’s best for the community,” Little said.
The local DHR director notified Calhoun County about six months ago that it possibly would not renew its lease in the Compass building on Noble Street, Ken Joiner, county administrator, said. He in turn notified city officials who set to work finding a new site.
“When you have an operation like that, that a lot of it is tied to the courts and the court cases, you want convenience for the public and you want convenience for the workers also,” Joiner said.
The south end of the Chalkline property is within walking distance of the Calhoun County Courthouse.
The current building does not suit DHR’s needs, said Barry Spear, public information officer for Alabama DHR.
“The present location of Calhoun County DHR has poor functionality and presents security difficulties,” Spear said by e-mail. “We currently serve over 30,000 people in Calhoun County and believe they will be much better served in a building designed for the purpose of providing social services.”
Plans for the new building have not reached the design stage, so Bennington has no estimate of the cost.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545