Five years ago, hundreds of people filled the old Grissom High School (GHS) auditorium for a community meeting. The new school was just days away from opening on Haysland Road, and citizens wanted to know what the future held for the former campus on Bailey Cove. Council Member Dr. Jennie Robinson, who represents District 3, said the intention was to create “a downtown for South Huntsville.”
Today, the property is well on its way toward that goal. The treasured GHS sign still occupies the same spot it’s held for 50 years. However, that’s the only piece that remains untouched. The remainder of the site, now known as the Sandra Moon Community Complex, is fully focused on the future.
“From the beginning, we saw the Sandra Moon Complex as having the potential to meet an exceptionally broad set of opportunities for the Huntsville community,” said City Administrator John Hamilton.
Writing the next chapter
Through careful discussion, City leaders identified which assets could be saved, which could be repurposed, and where new elements, such as a playground, were needed. On the north end of the campus, demolition enabled the creation of the South Huntsville Public Library.
Less than a year since its opening, nearly 300,000 visitors have enjoyed the makerspace studio or teen gaming center, watched a puppet show at the children’s theater, checked out a book or laptop or grabbed a cup of coffee at the HATCH café.
Outside, calls of “bounce it” and “nice get” can be heard from players using one of the pickleball courts, while the multi-use fields are a popular location for soccer and ultimate frisbee. A standalone building houses a community room for special events and meetings.
A new “art and soul”
Meanwhile, Phase II of the project is on schedule with an extensive interior renovation of the main southside building. Many of the upgrades focus on making the 110,000-square-foot community center accessible and safe. Others are necessary to turn the old school into a new hub for the community.
Arts Huntsville will take over the theater, rehearsal space and surrounding offices. The same auditorium where hundreds of citizens gathered in 2017 will help address the growing need for small to midsize venues. Construction is targeted for spring 2023 completion.
“We are so excited to welcome outstanding performing arts groups from across the City to become residents at the new Performing Arts Center,” said Council Member Robinson, who has shepherded Sandra Moon Community Complex from its infancy. “All five of my children performed on the old Grissom High School stage years ago. Now, Arts Huntsville is pulling together a collaborative team of community groups that will bring new life to the old site. I believe the Performing Arts Center will create the same kind of creative synergy that exists for visual artists at Lowe Mill.”
Bringing it all together
The City of Huntsville’s Parks & Recreation Department, which already manages the pickleball courts, community room and multi-use fields, will oversee the rest of the building, including two gymnasiums. Plans are underway to create a true community center, with fitness, recreation and leisure opportunities for all ages.
“I think when it’s done, it will be one of our crown jewels in Huntsville,” says Parks & Recreation Director James Gossett. “Especially when you look at the level of activities and programs, and the wide range of people who can use that center.”
Designs for this phase are still being conceptualized but Gossett says it will be a place “the whole community can plug into and there aren’t many like that.”
The next step, though, is Phase III. This includes construction of the playground, one of the amenities identified as a key community desire. Phase III will also address the practical need of parking. On any given night, the Sandra Moon Community Complex could play host to a theater performance, basketball game and special library event. Ensuring ample room for everyone, inside and out, is a vital part of the process. Phase III is expected to go out for bid by the end of the year.
“Sports, passive recreation, fitness, the full-range of library services, a wide variety of performance arts, crafts, senior programming and public meeting spaces are all available and we expect more in the future,” Hamilton said. “We are very happy with the progress to date but are particularly looking forward to the additional improvements coming over the next couple years.”
Learn more about the Sandra Moon Community Complex master plan here.