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Athens veterans museum raising money for education center, renovation

Decatur Daily - 12/7/2018

Dec. 07--ATHENS -- The Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives continues to raise money to build a new education center and renovate the existing museum, which is housed in a 100-year-old former L&N freight depot on West Pryor Street.

The expansion will provide space for STEM education efforts and more military artifact displays for the No. 1 tourist attraction in Limestone County, with more than 12,000 visitors last year, according to Director Sandy Thompson.

The goal is to raise $2.2 million for the project, and almost $500,000 has been contributed to the fundraising campaign so far, she said.

"We're competing for donations" with other museums and nonprofit organizations, said Mike Criscillis, the chairman of the museum's building and fundraising committees. "But I'm confident we'll reach that goal.

"We need to raise another million to get the (education) building up," he said. "It's better if we can raise all the money and do a turnkey project."

The first step in the project was demolishing a concrete freight dock next to the current location. The Limestone County Commission covered the cost of demolition and disposal of the debris, and The Rogers Group donated gravel to cover that area for extra parking.

The 8,000-square-foot education center is the first phase of the project and is expected to take 12 months or less, according to plans. It will feature an exhibit area and classrooms, allowing students ages 6 to 18 to get hands-on experience using technology that mimics what's used by the U.S. military to inspire them to pursue science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics and consider military service and engineering as careers.

Criscillis said museum officials hope to equip the new center with virtual reality exhibits that can simulate flying a helicopter and driving a tank.

The museum's collection features more than 5,000 artifacts, from uniforms and medals to weapons dating from the Revolutionary War to the present, and the new building will provide more room to display memorabilia that is now stored on the second floor of the existing building, which is not handicapped-accessible.

The museum's exhibits and artifacts are tools for learning about military history and local military heroes, Criscillis said. "There are some personal stories that are told through our exhibits," he said.

"The existing building will still be utilized," Thompson said.

The library will be moved to the Wendell Powers Auditorium on the north end of the structure and the middle room, which now holds artifacts, will become a meeting and conference space, according to Thompson. The rest of the building will be used for storage.

Plans call for an outdoor exhibit for large artifacts such as trucks and tanks scheduled for the second phase, and the existing building, which was built in 1912, to be renovated in the third phase.

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