By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Thanks to contributions from throughout the community, Atmore American Legion Post 90 is in the process of contributing to the revitalization and beautification of the city’s downtown area.
The local veterans organization, headquartered at the corner of South Main and Church streets, is well into a project to recover the concrete and hard clay area on the south side of its headquarters and convert it into what post officials feel will be a valuable part of that effort.
“We had this big space out here that was doing nothing; it was just desolate,” Post 90 Adjutant Paul Chason said. “We started looking at all the things that are happening in the community — the Strand, revitalization of the buildings across the street (former sites of Western Auto / Atmore Ambulance and Snyder Furniture) and Boxcar Willie (city parking lot) on the north side of town, and wondered what we could do to contribute, how we could be part of it.”
The matter was the subject of much in-house discussion, but no concrete idea formed until a local business leader suggested that a water garden might be the answer.
“We wanted to do something with the vacant area, but exactly how it would play out was presented to us by one of our local business leaders,” Chason said. “Once the concept was explained, we realized that’s perfect, that a water garden would look good out there.”
Post Commander Dave Graham said the ongoing project will not only enhance the beauty of downtown but should also help eliminate or lessen one of the immediate area’s biggest problems, flooding of the busy intersection during rainy periods.
“One of the main things we wanted to do is control the water coming off our building’s metal roof that ends up on Main Street,” he said. “The water that nature is putting on the street is where the flooding comes in. This will push it out toward the garden. When water comes off our roof, it’s going to go to water our plants.”
Flowers and plants are and will be a major part of the project, adding their beauty and drawing numerous species of insects that are vital to the pollination process.
“We’ve already installed $15,000 worth of plants,” Chason said, while Graham pointed out that “four or five different kinds of butterflies have started coming to the plants, so it’s already working.”
Several species of flora have been planted, including hydrangea, bald cypress, crepe myrtle, blueberry bushes, azaleas, hibiscus and more.
Those efforts are part of Phase 1, which continues. Phase 2 will consist of washed gravel, as well as pavers that allow water to flow through them, the water feature, a pavilion and an arbor-like structure.
“In Phase 2, we’re going to add a water feature,” Chason said. “We may be able to add a pergola and the water feature during this portion of the project. We’re playing with numbers; it’s going to be really, really tight.”
Post officials are excited about the pavilion. The pad for it will be about 700 square feet, with a dual roof, and plans are to use it as a farmers’ market, for meetings and flag-burning ceremonies, and as an outdoor classroom for local students.
Chason said the exact type of water feature will be kept under wraps for the time being but promised it would be a “little non-traditional and a big attraction.”
Post 90 has received around $146,000 in grants and donations to date, with another $15,000 in pledges that are expected at various stages of the project.
“This has been in the works for about a year and a half,” Graham said. “We’ve gotten good support from grants and donations from local businesses. We still have a couple outstanding donations, and when those make it to the post, it will be just over $160,000 that has been raised, and we’ll probably spend close to every penny of that.”
As the project moves forward, Post 90 members are looking for the public’s help in naming the new greenspace. Anyone with a suggestion is asked to send it by email to email@example.com.
“We’re looking for a name,” said Chason, who added that community input was an important part of the ambitious project. “We’re not doing a contest, but we are open for suggestions. This has been truly a community project. The community has donated money and worked hard to get us grants for this. We want it to be part of what’s happening in the community. We want a name that’s going to show a community partnership and let everybody know it’s a joint effort between the post and the community.”