For a half-century, the site of the old Councill High School has created a quandary for school alumni and the City of Huntsville alike. The school’s history is priceless – but adaptive reuse of the remaining old buildings would come with a steep price.
A new plan is being introduced that will preserve the legacy of the school’s namesake, Dr. William Hooper Councill, and the alumni of the all-black institution that closed in the wake of desegregation in the 1960s.
A memorial park will be created on the Councill site on St. Clair Avenue, offering an homage to Dr. Councill’s ideals and providing more greenspace and a center for activities in downtown Huntsville.
We want to see the Councill High area used in the meaningful way the park allows.”
“I feel so very pleased with where we are,” said Brenda Chunn, president of the William H. Councill Alumni Association. “Until you get to a definitive point, you’re planning, you’re in conversation, it’s a possibility. So at this point, to have a plan that is concrete and we have an agreement and we are ready to proceed, that is extremely satisfying.”
The official first legal step in the progress will take place at Thursday’s City Council meeting. A proposal will be made to terminate a “memo of understanding” with the Housing Authority and the Councill Alumni Association, to whom the City had ceded responsibility.
That leads the way for the construction of the park, using funds long-earmarked by the City of Huntsville for a Councill project.
Councill campus fell into disrepair
The Councill campus is prime property adjacent to the main branch of the Huntsville-Madison County Library (built on the site on which legendary Councill Tigers teams had once played football, including an undefeated team in its final season of 1965).
The building has housed a number of businesses and non-profits through the years, but deterioration was exacerbated by flooding in 2003. An $8 million partnership was considered in 2006 to preserve the original gymnasium and surrounding rooms, but it failed to generate sufficient support. The structure has become uninhabitable and unsafe.
“It’s a fond, fond farewell to our building,” Chunn said. “But it sat there for too long and was not used, and indeed it’s an area of our community that must be put to use. Clearly the alumni feel that way. We want to see the Councill High area used in the meaningful way the park allows.”
“We’ve been working with the Councill Alumni Association for years, trying to figure out what is the best way to honor the people who are Councill alums,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “After a lot of work, we’ve come up with the best idea, which is to create a park with centerpieces that show the true spirit and courage of Councill High.”
Symbolic aspects of the park
Among the aspects will be a row of steps up to a schoolhouse door, symbolizing “equal access and hope and aspiration,” Chunn said. Exiting the other side of the door symbolizes the entire educational process, being prepared to go into the world. As Chunn said, “There isn’t any walk of life where you won’t find a William H. Councill graduate, because we were prepared.”
“This project is extremely close to my heart,” said District One Council Member Devyn Keith. “A number of Alumni Association members not only remember me being born, but even remember my mother as a child.
“Giving them something that is truly special, first and foremost to their legacy but the city as well is what I think we’ve delivered. Michelle (Jordan, Planning Director for the City of Huntsville) and her team have helped us create an incredible first phase of the legacy that will memorialize Councill’s great history.”