Work on new museum progressing

By Mary Hood
Fairhope Courier Intern
Posted 7/22/07

FAIRHOPE — Nestled between the picturesque Welcome Center and the Compass Bank branch in downtown Fairhope stands a building that many believe will be a great commodity for the community.

With construction barreling forward on the Fairhope …

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Work on new museum progressing


FAIRHOPE — Nestled between the picturesque Welcome Center and the Compass Bank branch in downtown Fairhope stands a building that many believe will be a great commodity for the community.

With construction barreling forward on the Fairhope Historical Museum, Larry Thomas, president of the Fairhope Single Tax Corp. (FSTC), said they haven’t run into many snags along the way.

Only a few minor complications have arisen, he said, beginning with a fuel tank. Thomas said that early on, workers discovered there was a large fuel tank underground. Initial estimates pegged the tank between 1,000 and 2,000 gallons.

“You have to be very environmentally careful with the removal of fuel tanks,” Thomas said.

They had to put down test wells to see if there was any leakage and there wasn’t, but they did find out the tank was above what they estimated — 5,000 gallons.

“That changed the removal cost by about 40 percent,” Thomas said.

The next challenge they faced was a foundation problem. Thomas said toward the back of the building where the old jail cells are a foundation wasn't completely laid. Solving this issue didn’t cause too much grief, however.

The last big problem they ran into is what Thomas described as a “head-scratcher.”

They needed to tear down the old Civil Defense building that stood behind the museum, and as the workers dug in they found it was quite a mess. Thomas said the reinforcement bars were so heavily laden, tangled and twisted together that they were tearing out chunks of concrete the size of the hard hats the workers were wearing.

“It was like spaghetti in there,” Thomas said.

Other than those issues, Thomas said, everything has been going smoothly.

Dean Mosher, FSTC vice president, said construction is actually ahead of schedule.

“It is progressing quite admirably,” Mosher said. He noted the museum will be enclosed shortly, meaning it will have doors and locks that will enable to workers to start pulling the fences down.

The original building was originally Fairhope City Hall, which was built between 1927 and 1929. Thomas said he wanted to keep as much of the original building as possible. Instead, he got opinions stating that the old section should be torn down completely.

“We just couldn’t bring ourselves to do that,” Thomas said. “It’s very possible we could have torn the old section down and reconstructed it to look like the old for about the same or less money, but I had a lot better feeling that a whole lot of that is the original.”

The parts of city hall that are included in the new museum are the mayor’s office, the police department, the fire department and the old council chambers.

That section of the museum will contain artifacts and art to tell the history of Fairhope, Mosher said.

Thomas added they want to put in a desk from the same period of the first mayor of Fairhope. He said it isn’t the exact one he had, but will be a similar style.

The front of the museum will contain changing exhibits, and both Thomas and Mosher hope to display traveling exhibits.

“It’s always been our goal, the Fairhope Single Tax goal, and pretty much the city’s and everyone else’s, to not let it be a static museum where if you went here today then you wouldn’t have to come back until next year,” Thomas said.

Featuring changing exhibits and keeping a constant flow will create more interest and bring more visitors, according to organizers.

“We're hoping it turns out that way,” Thomas said.

Mosher explained a feature the museum contains to help move and hoist exhibits. It’s a lift attached to the ceiling that is capable of lifting 3,000 pounds.

Mosher said with a laugh that they will probably not test whether it can lift that much, but it will still get good use. Thomas continued by saying the lift was manufactured especially for the museum.

Surrounding the museum will be a park that will add green space and life to the area.

As of Wednesday night, the FSTC board approved an extra $100,000 be spent on the park, Mosher said.

Thomas said it’s for hardscaping, which they hope to begin doing soon. This will include making water connections for the future fountain and utility connections for lighting. After that the landscaping will begin.

Thomas and Mosher showed excitement for the handicap ramp that will be built at the entrance. Instead of having stairs, the museum will have a gradual slope leading up to the doors, something Mosher said will distinguish the museum’s front from all others.

Thomas said construction should be completed near the end of December, and they would like the museum to open in March to “coincide with the city’s centennial.”