By Kim West
The Limestone County Archives has received a $470,000 grant through the Alabama Department of Transportation to restore and upgrade the building that contains a majority of the county’s historical records.
Sonya Anthony, grant coordinator for Limestone, said the grant is part of ALDOT’s Transportation Alternatives Program. The TAP grant will pay $376,000, or 80 percent, of the restoration project, while the county’s 20 percent share is $94,000.
County Archivist Rebekah Davis said the county purchased the former Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot at 102 W. Washington St. in 2004 to house the archives, which moved from the basement of the Washington Street courthouse annex.
“Being awarded this grant is one of the real benefits of working a repurposed building,” Davis said. “Because we’re repurposing a historic building, then we fall into some of these other grant programs. I’m really glad the county had the foresight to hold on to this building.”
The 108-year-old building is set to receive new siding, fresh paint and a ramp to make the building accessible to those with disabilities. Davis said she also hopes to improve the interior lighting, which is currently boosted by the building’s skylights.
“We have some major needs at the depot you wouldn’t know to look at it from a distance. But upon closer inspection, you can see that boards on the outside are rotting and the paint is peeling,” she said. “And, we need better lighting because on cloudy days you can’t see the books that well.”
In addition to the structural enhancements, Davis said the archives would receive much-needed fire protection through the installation of a dry fire sprinkler and an alarm system linked to Athens Fire and Rescue.
“We don’t have any real fire protection to speak of, and that’s really quite urgent when you’re talking about a more than 100-year-old building filled with 200-year-old books,” Davis said. “The dry system uses water but it doesn’t have water in pipes overhead. The water is kept back with a valve so if there is a fire, that one sprinkler head will open up.”
Anthony and Stanley Menefee, chairman of the Limestone County Commission, said they expect the county’s 20 percent share of the grant to be approved at the Oct. 7 commission meeting. The commission approved applying for the grant in June.
“Now that it has been approved by ALDOT, we’ll have to go back and approve the 20 percent match,” said Menefee, a lifelong county resident who could recall when daily passenger trains arrived in Athens in the 1960s.
Anthony said she would meet with ALDOT officials Sept. 26 to review the renovation plans, along with project architect Brian Terry. She said work could begin in early 2014 pending approval from the county, ALDOT paperwork and letting of bids.
Davis said it is possible the archives will remain open during the upgrades. She added that even if the building needs to be closed, research appointments would still be available to the public.