Digging into the details: Plans for the former Grissom site

single-meta-cal July 27, 2017

Once upon a time, Grissom High was disparaged by rivals for its construction. “Got Windows?” read a popular T-shirt worn by Huntsville High students, noting the glaring architectural shortcoming of the building on Bailey Cove Road. 

In its new incarnation, the old Grissom High site will be a window into the community. It will provide the “postcard shot” for the neighborhood, believes Dennis Madsen, manager of Urban & Long Range Planning for the City of Huntsville. 

What will evolve on the site in the next few years is the answer to the question that Madsen, his staff and others in the City have faced: 

“As far as how the City can approach redevelopment of properties – whether it’s a public facility or a partnership with private entities – the first question is what can we do with this site that has a positive impact on the neighborhoods around it?” he says. “How can we use this site to make the neighborhood around it better?” 

Or, as he puts it even more colorfully, “What are the things we can put in here where it becomes not a white elephant but a gift you can use?” 

Grissom Community Meeting

July 17, 2017

Hundreds of citizens gathered at the former Grissom High School site on Bailey Cove for a community meeting with Huntsville City Council President Jennie Robinson to discuss the plans for the area.

A sparkling new Grissom High is opening in the Haysland area off South Memorial Parkway, one of the final pieces of the puzzle of Huntsville City Schools’ $270 million capital gains construction project. 

What happens with the old Grissom? Equal parts demolition and restoration. 

Here’s are the plans: 

— A new library, to be built from ground-up. 

— Continued use of the athletics facilities, fields and gyms, to be overseen by Huntsville Parks & Recreation. The facilities will be modernized and adapted for more varied use. 

— An arts center that will be administered by ArtsHuntsville and will include the existing theater space. A more inviting entrance and lobby will be constructed. 

— A large green space area between the library and Bailey Cove, what Madsen calls, “the great lawn.” 

The campus will become “a downtown for South Huntsville,” says Huntsville City Council President Dr. Jennie Robinson, who represents District 3. 

Dr. Robinson says it will be called the “Sandra Moon Community Complex,” honoring the late councilwoman and civic leader, someone Robinson unabashedly calls her inspiration. 

The library will be on the north end of the campus, where buildings will be demolished. According to Madsen, there are multiple reasons – short hallways, the dearth of windows, etc. – against retrofitting the current building as a library. 

The $8.5 million project is being funded by $2 million apiece from the City of Huntsville and Madison County, the rest through a fund-raising effort. 

As the City soon takes ownership of the property from Huntsville City Schools, work will begin on renovation in the gyms and on the athletic fields. There will be spaces for traditional sports and for non-traditional sports, such as Pickleball, a nationally popular tennis derivative that has gained a rabid participant base in Huntsville. 

There is frequently a premium on performance and meeting space in the area, particularly for smaller, community theater-type events. The theater and lunchroom that will be upgraded on the south end of campus will provide more performance opportunities to meet the increasing demand of local groups looking for showtime space.

Finally, there is the green space that will emerge from the demolition. Madsen says there “is a tremendous amount of value for community gathering spaces,” and foresees it as comparable to the Village of Providence Park, where there is a movie night on the green and other activities. 

“An extra living room for people who live in and around the campus,” he calls it. 

The City of Huntsville has been left with not only Grissom High to repurpose but also with J.O. Johnson High in north Huntsville. Johnson was replaced by Mae Jemison High, now in its second year. The Johnson site is a temporary home to the Huntsville Public Safety Training Center, with shared use by the Huntsville Police Department and Huntsville Fire and Rescue.  

As Madsen notes, Grissom and Johnson have provided different challenges.  

“Grissom is on a commercial corridor and it’s much smaller,” Madsen says. “That lends itself to a different program than Johnson, which is surrounded by these single-family neighborhoods. We have to think about these sites individually. Each is unique and each can bring positive things.”