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Satcher museum supporters discuss plans

Satcher site

A site not far from the Department of Human Resources building is the gathering point Thursday for Anniston City Councilman Ben Little and others who might support construction of a health care and civil rights institute named after former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher.

One day, Anniston City Councilman Ben Little hopes, western Anniston will have a new museum named after one of its most famous sons. 

There might be columns out front, he said, and inside, a rotunda fit for hosting big events. Maybe there'd be a gift shop or even a restaurant like Subway, and lecture halls hosting internationally known speakers.

Right now, though, there's only a field and a tent behind a government building, on what was once a contaminated industrial site. 

"We don't have president from Anniston, but we do have a surgeon general, and we need to build something nice to recognize that," Little said.

Little met with about two dozen local residents Thursday in a tent in the field just north of the Department of Human Resources building on 11th Street, the site where the councilman hopes to build a health care and civil rights institute named after Dr. David Satcher, the former Anniston resident who went on to become U.S. surgeon general in the 1990s. 

The plan has the support of Satcher himself, and of the City Council, which agreed to set aside $25,000 for the project in its 2020 budget and agreed to ask the federal government to slice off $250,000 in grant money for a park dedicated to the Freedom Riders and send it to the Satcher project instead. 

What supporters of the Satcher museum don't have, at least so far, is an estimate of just how much the project will cost or a donor to cover the cost beyond the first $275,000. Little held his meeting Thursday in part to ask local people exactly what they'd like to see in the museum — and to drum up support for the plan. 

"What a magnificent story we can tell in Anniston," he said. "The environmental issues that we've had, and the health issues that we've had, and the civil rights issues that we've had."

Little's plan is to build a single building housing a civil rights museum and a health science institute in one building on the old Chalk Line site, a lot that once housed a textile mill and later was the subject of an extensive environmental cleanup. On the same lot, in a separate building, he hopes to see a new senior center and "one-stop social shop" for social service agencies. 

It's not the first time the city has taken on the old Chalk Line site. A $13.5 million Department of Human Resources building, one of the biggest downtown building projects of the last decade, stands not far from the spot where Little put up his tent. 

"If you can do that, you can do this," Shelia Smoot, an economic development consultant with the city, told the crowd.

Smoot said she, Little and others had been in talks with officials from Honda earlier this week. She said supporters of the project would soon approach local businesses looking for contributions to the museum plan. 

Little and Smoot introduced the crowd to Clay Dorsey, the Birmingham architect whose firm designed part of the Peace and Justice Memorial Center in Montgomery. Dorsey told the crowd he expected to have a rendering of a proposed center done sometime in October, and he asked the crowd what they'd like to see in the museum.

“We cannot forget the foot soldiers,” said Anniston resident Harold Ray. “The ones who marched through the winter.”

He said that in addition to celebrating known civil rights heroes, the museum should focus on the average people who made up the civil rights movement. 

Anniston resident Ralph Bradford wanted to know the basics. How many square feet would the buildings take up? What would they be made of?

"I'm thinking concrete and glass and stone," Dorsey said. He said the size of the buildings has yet to be settled. 

"I'm concerned about the cost of operating the buildings," Bradford said, noting that a big building costs a lot to heat and cool. 

“We're to try to get the buildings LEED-certified,” Dorsey said. LEED is a certification for the most energy efficient buildings, though Dorsey said those energy efficient materials could increase the overall cost of the building. 

Neither Dorsey nor Little had an estimate of the cost to build the structures, though Little said he wasn't worried about finding financial support. Donors will come along once they see the importance of the project, he said. Little said also that he expected support from the city. 

“We've spent a lot of money in the hills on the hikers and bikers,” he said. “Now let's spend some money in the valley.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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