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Museum officials say the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives on West Pryor Street in Athens has outgrown its space in the 100-year-old L&N freight depot, and they have requested that the county deed them the nearby Limestone County Event Center as a new location. [DECATUR DAILY FILE]

ATHENS — Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives officials are interested in getting the deed to the nearby Limestone County Event Center so they can convert the north half of the building into a new museum location.

Museum board members made a pitch to the Limestone County Commission at a work session Wednesday, saying the south side of the building where a stage is located would remain available for event rental.

“We’re ready to take it over,” said Jerry Crabtree, the president of the museum’s board of directors. “We would be totally responsible for it.”

If the proposal is accepted by commissioners, the museum group would like for the county to pay for utilities at the building until it is refurbished and the  board takes possession of it.

The museum is the county’s No. 1 attraction, with more than 12,000 visitors last year, according to Director Sandy Thompson.

“We’re out of space” at the museum’s current location in the former L&N freight depot, said board member Jerry Barksdale.

“I think overall it’s going to be a good deal” for both parties and the community, he said. “We have upgraded the old (museum) building at no expense to taxpayers.”

The event center would also get improvements, he said.

The county owns the veterans museum and event center buildings, and the museum leases its current location in the 100-year-old former L&N freight depot, at 100 W. Pryor St., from the county. 

District 3 Commissioner Jason Black said the board member’s proposal to take over responsibility for the center sounds like a good deal because the county is spending about $100,000 to $110,000 a year on the facility.

“We wouldn’t have the headaches (with the building) to deal with and they can carry on that service” of providing rental space for events, Black said.

The fiscal 2019 budget includes about $131,700 for the center, including maintenance, utilities and insurance for the building and contents. Rental revenue for the current fiscal year to date is $18,155, budget figures show.

Commission Chairman Collin Daly said the center’s utility bill for July alone was more than $9,000.

About $500,000 in donations have been raised through the museum’s capital campaign, and that money would be used to upgrade the center's heating and cooling system, build a divider to separate the event center and museum, and for other work.

Museum leaders had asked earlier this year for a 20-year lease for the event center and appealed to the county to contribute $3,000 each month for 24 months to help pay utilities. They would have, in turn, surrendered the lease on the current location.

The museum board’s initial plans were to build a new 8,000-square-foot education center, with an exhibit area and classrooms, to the north of the existing museum. Future phases had included an outdoor exhibit for large artifacts and renovation of the existing museum.

The event center building was purchased from Pilgrim’s Pride in January 2007 for $130,000, and renovation and other costs for the project including advertising for construction bids were about $2.2 million, according to County Administrator Pam Ball.

Commissioners will discuss the proposal at their Aug. 28 work session, and could vote on the matter at the regular meeting Sept. 3.

Daly, who would vote only in the case of a tie, said that county attorney Mark Maclin would review the possibility of transferring the deed.

Black said the county’s maintenance department is now housed in leased space and, if the museum’s current location was available, the department could possibly move there.

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

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