Design of SRS center begins

AIKEN - Plans for a center highlighting the history of the Savannah River Site and the people who were displaced to make room for the nuclear facility are gaining momentum.

Although years away from opening, the proposed Heritage Center is being designed.

After that comes the hard part, said J.W. Joseph, a board member of the SRS Heritage Foundation. That's when the group will start raising the money needed to retrofit a building on SRS property for the center to house 30,000 artifacts.

Mr. Joseph said he's recently received initial designs showing how the parking lot will look and where exterior exhibit space will be located.

The center, he said, will not be open for four years.

"That's two years roughly for fundraising, less than a year for design and a year for construction," Mr. Joseph said.

Though organizers don't know how much money it will cost to retrofit the building, "we estimate that it will be several million dollars. But we don't know that yet," Mr. Joseph said.

He said the foundation plans to lease from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The site chosen for the center is behind security fences on SRS property.

Jim Giusti, a DOE spokesman, said the agency no longer is using the building. Once the center is located there, the department will make it accessible to the public.

The Heritage Center will feature indoor and outdoor exhibit space, classrooms, a lecture hall, gift shop, food court and resource center for people researching family members who were forced to move in the 1950s.

When SRS moved into southern Aiken County, federal officials forced 6,000 residents to move from the town of Ellenton and surrounding communities.

Most of the artifacts the foundation plans to display are being stored in an unused reactor building at SRS, Mr. Joseph said.

The board does not know how the center will fund its operations, and a "nominal" entry fee might be required by the public to help defer costs.

"We'll have to set up some sort of endowment," he said.

Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or sandi.martin@augustachronicle.com.