The redevelopment of public housing in tandem with improvement of the education system and the promotion of eco-tourism were presented as a package of goals at a west Anniston revitalization planning meeting Thursday.
The city of Anniston, in partnership with the Anniston Housing Authority and the Anniston Board of Education, hosted the second of the master plan development meetings at the Carver Center. The meeting focused on anticipated redevelopment efforts of Cooper Homes, the future of nearby Cobb Elementary and the Chief Ladiga Trail and how to bring these projects together to improve the lives of west Anniston residents.
About 30 people attended the meeting, consisting mainly of city and housing authority officials, a member of the school board and representatives from a local nonprofit, the Anniston Community Education Foundation.
"We have three projects that we need to see how we can fit together and make one big, overall project," said Jason Ponder of the KPS Group, a Birmingham-based architectural firm that led the meeting and will develop the final master plan. "The purpose of this is to have a unified vision."
The housing authority is considering redeveloping the aging Cooper Homes, constructed in 1952 and home to about 95 families. The possibility of Cooper Homes' redevelopment spurred the start of the master plan process for west Anniston, which has high poverty compared to the rest of the city, Census figures show.
Meanwhile, the school board is considering closing Cobb Elementary due to low student enrollment and possibly repurposing it as a community education center. Also, the city has long sought to extend the Chief Ladiga Trail through west Anniston, bringing in more tourism dollars and better recreational opportunities for residents.
Sonny McMahand, executive director of the Anniston Housing Authority, said his agency is waiting for the master plan, which includes surveys from residents, to possibly use some of its data for the final redevelopment plan for Cooper Homes. The west Anniston plan is expected to be ready for approval in April.
"We're interested to see the next step," McMahand said.
McMahand noted he liked the concept of the plan so far, particularly the housing authority working with the school system.
"That's the vision the authority has, trying to make a partnership," he said.
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said the most Anniston public school students live in public housing, so it makes sense to partner the housing authority with the school system. The idea echoed sentiments made in the meeting by other attendees, who said more parental involvement was needed to improve the education system and thereby west Anniston.
"Bring some of those parental meetings to the public housing," Stewart said. "You have to go where the students live."
Attendees also mentioned increasing educational programs such as trade programs as a means of bringing west Anniston residents out of poverty. It was also suggested Cobb be converted into a type of educational center for those or similar non-academic programs.
School board member C.K. Huguley said she liked the concept of partnering schools with the housing authority as a way to improve west Anniston.
"It's time west Anniston really came alive again," Huguley said. "The whole system benefits when everyone is doing well."
For more information about the master plan development for west Anniston and schedules of future meetings, visit www.westannistontime.blogspot.com.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.