D20609 vets museum (copy)

Exhibits of artifacts from the Revolutionary War until present day are part of the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives in Athens. There will be more room for displays when the conversion of the Limestone County Event Center is finished and the museum moves there. [DAN BUSEY/DECATUR DAILY FILE]

ATHENS — Construction has started on converting half of the former Limestone County Event Center into a new home for the the county's leading tourist attraction, the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives, and work is expected to be finished after the first of the year.

“We hope to have the project completed sometime in January,” said Michael Barnes, a project manager with The Highland Group, the general contractor which has support from the local construction manager, Martin & Cobey.

The museum is a way to highlight “local heroes,” Barnes said Friday at a project update at the site.

The current location of the museum is in a 100-year-old former L&N freight depot across the parking lot from the event center building.

Designed by architectural firm Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, the renovated 20,000-square-foot facility will feature a larger museum space for the museum’s growing collection, a library, a gift shop and a new space to host monthly coffee calls.

The building's southern half will be available for event rental and will seat up to 300, said Sandra Thompson, the museum’s director. A wall with large windows will separate the two functions.

The cost of the project is right at $750,000, and about $900,000 has been raised so far, including $650,000 from the state of Alabama, according to Thompson. She said fundraising efforts continue to pay for some additional projects, like replacing the existing stage on the south end of the building with a smaller one to make room for more seating.

“It’s going to be a beauty when they get through” with construction, said state Sen. Tom Butler, who represents parts of Limestone County. He said the library will accommodate more than 5,000 military-related books that are now stored on the current museum’s second floor. Butler said the facility will be “the best veterans museum in the state of Alabama. That’s our goal.”

The facility will be “something the entire state of Alabama will be proud of,” he said.

“We continue to grow and we’ve outgrown our present location,” said Jerry Crabtree, president of the museum’s board of directors. He said the museum opened in 2002 in a couple of small rooms in the southern part of the current museum building. The county owns that building, and the museum board has been leasing it from the county.

The Limestone County Commission last year agreed to transfer the deed of the event center to the museum board, which will manage the museum and event operations. The building will revert to the county if it’s no longer used as a museum.

The museum reopened to visitors May 27, the day after Memorial Day, after being closed for about two months due to COVID-19 restrictions. It has artifacts from the Revolutionary War through Operation Enduring Freedom.

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marian.accardi@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.

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