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New museum under review


“Sometimes I feel like a contractor, not a mayor.”

— Noel Foster

The City Hall desk of White Hall Mayor Noel Foster has been covered with building plans in recent weeks. First were plans for a records storage building, then the city’s first fire substation and a community center and an aquatic park.

Now he is ready to take a look at a new municipal museum in time for the city’s 50th anniversary in 2014.

Foster has included a proposed $60,000 appropriation in his 2013 municipal budget for a new structure to replace the aging museum at 9009 Dollarway Road.

The residence of the late Carl and Essie Mae Carter was donated to the city by the Carter estate. Foster said interest earned on the estate will help defray construction costs, adding he has obtained authorization from the trustees of the estate to demolish the existing building once a new museum is occupied.

He is proposing “a more open floor plan,” noting the existing structure does not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for the handicapped and those with limited mobility.

An analysis indicated it would cost more to renovate the existing structure to meet building codes and ADA requirements than constructing a new museum, Foster said.

“A budget is an open tool,” he noted, explaining that members of the White Hall City Council have been responsive to preliminary plans.

A museum is more than a building, he added.

“It is important that we preserve the history of the city,” Foster observed, and protect important artifacts for future generations. “We are writing history every day.”

There are several outbuildings on the property, including one that houses municipality’s restored first fire truck.

The Veterans Monument is located in front of the museum and would not require relocation, under the initial plan. The monument is engraved with the names of those killed and missing in action from the White Hall area.

The museum is open three days each week and hosts annual open houses marking Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Christmas, he said, and utilizes a part-time director and a cadre of volunteers.

Mary Lou Mauldin, the museum director for almost four years, said she was “excited” that Foster plans to build a new museum on the current site, adding she has been limited on some displays because several areas in the existing building are small and not on the same level.

The restroom is not compliant with the ADA, she added.

Mauldin said she has wanted to establish a reading room for individuals interested in old newspapers that have been collected in bound editions.

City officials have discussed building a community center since 1997 with the passage of a 2 percent sales tax on prepared food, with the tax revenue pledged toward a center.

Foster recently announced that plans for a community center and aquatic park are being developed for a large city-owned tract southeast of Dollarway and Hoadley roads. The site was cleared earlier this year.

Foster and Aldermen David Beck and Ken Smith have toured a number of municipally owned and operated centers with aquatic parks this year to gather ideas.

A city-wide survey was conducted earlier this year on the features that interest local residents.

Foster’s initial plans call for an aquatic park with a large pool that would be utilized for lap swimming, a splash park for younger children, giant slides, diving boards and rock climbing walls. For older residents with limited mobility, a “zero entry area would allow for water aerobics” and other activities.

The community center would include a multi-purpose gymnasium, elevated walking and banquet rooms available for rent, with picnic tables walking trails, volleyball and tennis courts added later, Foster stated, to “get the maximum use of the property.”

Plans should be ready in early 2013 to submit to the Advertising and Promotion Commission for their observations and recommendations.

If voters approved a low interest bond issue, development on the center could begin in the summer and hopefully be completed in the spring of 2014, Foster said recently, with the aquatic park opening later in 2014.

Construction of the two bay fire substation south of the intersection of Sheridan and Robin roads should be completed in the spring, officials said recently.