Editor's Note: Jonathan Formanek, owner of the Faubus House, and an architect, has made a proposal to the Huntsville School District to use the former Walmart building as a location for the Huntsville location of one of the Career Technical Education Facilities. The other location is being built at the St. Paul campus. Madison County voters passed a millage last spring in order to build the two CTE buildings, an activity center and new heating and air units. Below is Formanek's proposal to the district.  


Guest Column

By Jonathan Formanek

For 19 of the 25 years that I have lived in Huntsville, I enjoyed one space we all share: Tuesday Farmers’ Market at the former Walmart building. It was more than a market. It was a community hub.

For almost 6 years, our hub has been a black hole of empty asphalt, empty of people and life. It’s unlikely the building will find a retailer or manufacturer needing 37,000 square feet. So it sits empty and spiritless waiting but full of potential.

With recent passage of the millage to build new career and technical education facilities for the Huntsville School District, an opportunity might exist for new community hub for Huntsville and Madison County. A non-profit foundation is being established to acquire the former Walmart space. It is willing to sell to the Huntsville School District the 21,000 square feet required for the CTE facility for approximately $1,000,000 with the conditions that it maintain a central entry, resurface the parking lot and fund landscaping in front of the building.

The original $3.1 million approved for new CTE building has come in over budget by $500,000 and faces cuts in the original building materials and possibly the overall size. Using the former Walmart building would give the school district $1.8 million dollars for utilities, to build additional bathrooms, offices, storage, and classrooms within the space.

The CTE facility would not be so distant from the high school and center of town. It would not need to build another parking lot with no other use than by the school and it would not be dependent on the weather for completion by August 2020. And it still leaves the full funding for the school activity center.

And now for the additional benefits. The Wes Fowler Library is in desperate need of extra space. When it moved to its current location its programs and book circulation greatly increased. An example of build it and they will come. It utilizes a separate metal building for storage. With community and foundation support, the library could double in size and provide needed space for expanded programming, books, media and group meetings.

The Genealogical and Historical Society and the GED programs could also have larger homes.

There could also be sufficient square footage for a Madison County Museum, gallery spaces, and multi-purpose community spaces and areas for after school and summer programs, all united by a lounge open for informal community encounters.

When we think of millage for civic building, we need to think not just of space but of place. We need to think how we can provide more. In one stroke, we can build a CTE facility and library and revitalize part of downtown as a center for students of all ages to share, learn, create, and innovate for the future of Huntsville and Madison County.

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