Next steps for the J.O. Johnson campus

single-meta-cal August 23, 2017

J.O. Johnson High School’s rich history led to an outpouring of emotion when it was recently closed after 44 years. However, a strategy is being created to assure the site has an equally rich future.

District One City Council Member Devyn Keith has joined with the City of Huntsville’s Planning Department to create concepts for the development of residential use of the property.

Keith and other City officials will hold a community meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at 6 p.m. in the Johnson auditorium to discuss the plans.

“It’s time for North Huntsville to do this,” Keith said. “This is a unique opportunity. I’ve talked to constituents and this is what they said they wanted done, to increase the quality of life and in doing so to increase the property values. These are steps I believe we need to take.”

This is about creating something for the future.”

According to Dennis Madsen, the Director for Long-Range and Urban Planning, the concepts to be shared next week are based upon community input from other meetings as part of the City’s BIG Picture initiative as well as feedback Keith has received in his campaign for the Council seat and in his tenure.

“There are a lot of different ideas out there,” Madsen said, “but there is a general consensus that whatever happens needs to have a positive quality-of-life impact and a positive economic impact to it.”

Room for Growth

There are some 46 acres of city-owned property on the Johnson campus that would be sold to a developer. The Johnson gym would remain intact as a centerpiece of a recreational facility the City would continue to own and maintain, according to Keith.

“We want to reassure the citizens of North Huntsville that the City has a long-term vision for the development of that site,” said City Administrator John Hamilton. “We see the majority of the campus being used for some market-based commercial redevelopment that’s a great opportunity to bring a new housing product to North Huntsville.”

The building currently contains the City of Huntsville Public Safety Training Center, as home to the Huntsville Police Department Academy and Huntsville Fire & Rescue Academy and training offices. A new training center is being planned, though there is no target date for construction to begin.

There is a general consensus that whatever happens needs to have a positive quality-of-life impact and a positive economic impact to it.”

According to Hamilton, “any private development would be done in partnership with the City and the City’s approved master plan.”

He hopes to have a Request For Proposal (RFP) released by year’s end to seek that private partner and stressed that it will be a “multi-year, multi-phase development. Nobody should expect it to be completely developed within a year or two.”

WATCH: Drone footage of the J.O. Johnson site

Madsen said the Johnson property is more conducive for residential use rather than business because it is far-removed from a major thoroughfare (Winchester Road) and a number of existing residences serve as something of a buffer zone between the campus and the highway. Some 4,300 residents live within a mile of the center of campus, with more than 1,600 occupied dwellings, two-thirds of which are owner-occupied.

A plan that would include public spaces and greenspace in addition to the residential and recreation facilities would be urged as the City partners with a developer, Hamilton said.

Remembering J.O. Johnson

J.O. Johnson closed following the 2015-16 school year and was replaced by nearby Mae Jemison High, an ultra-modern structure that was part of the Huntsville City Schools’ $270 million capital improvements effort.

The Johnson name will continue “to be memorialized” in what unfolds on the campus.

“I respect the legacy of Johnson High School,” Keith said. “I’m the son of a Johnson alum. I’m the cousin of a Johnson alum and best friend of a Johnson alum.”

Keith noted that residents need to look no further than Mae Jemison High to see the benefits of change.

“We can do the same with this development,” Keith said. “This is about creating something for the future.”