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Lake project complete by July 25

Despite recent heavy rainfall, the Florala lake project will be completed by July 25 — five days before its original completion date announced earlier this year, Chief Phillip Watkins, the project manager, said Thursday.

“We did lose 29 work days due to the rain, but we will finish on time,” said Watkins, who is head of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s Innovative Readiness Team program and the reservists performing the construction work on the project. “These guys are really working, and it’s going to be done.”

Thursday, Watkins took the time to explain what the completed project will look like, stating, “It’s going to be a fine facility with a beautiful exterior and finished interior — sheetrock, tile floors. You’re not going to look up and see steel beams. Once it’s completed, you’ll never know it had a steel frame.”

The building is a 10,400 square-foot multipurpose building with tile floors and sheet rocked walls. It will feature a concession area on the right side of the building, a meeting room on the left side of the building, as well as men’s and women’s restrooms. Those restrooms will also be accessible from the outside, Watkins said.

In the center of the building will be a meeting room that can seat up to 700 people, he said.

The building’s exterior will have a stucco-and-brick veneer. Large storefront windows will flank the entrance with side walking surrounding the building. In the rear, a 600-seat amphitheater is being “carved” into the hillside facing the lake.

“You can already see where we’ve begun carving the dirt out for the seating,” he said. “Those seats will face a stage, with the lake as a backdrop. You can almost envision the events that are going to happen here. The people of Florala should be very proud to be able to provide a home for this facility.

“You can imagine the weddings, the reunions, the plays, the business meetings — all sorts of events that will attract people from all over to Florala,” he said. “It’s an excellent setting. Now, all they need is a hotel.”

The project was funded in September 2008 when the State Parks Joint Legislative Committee approved a $1 million grant. The U.S. Air Force Reserves, through its IRT program, committed an additional $1 million in labor and equipment.

“I think people are a little confused about what we are doing here and how this project was accomplished,” Watkins said. “We are members of the U.S. Air Force. The IRT program was designed to train people in a particular craft for their wartime skills. For example, we have architects, engineers and electricians here.

“This project is a state park project,” he said. “The state gave a specific grant and that money was designated to build this community center. It can only be used for that purpose. It can’t pave roads or anything else.

“Where we came in, is that the Air Force committed $1 million in labor and equipment to complete this building project,” he said. “So it’s a win-win situation. For my guys, we get the training we need. For the 501(c)(3) organization, it helps get the labor they need.”

Since work began, reservists have been rotated in on a two-week schedule. The current crew, which arrived in May, will be on hand until the project is completed.

“These men were hand-picked because they are the best at what they do,” he said. “They’re going to be here until everything is complete. We just ask for a little more patience from the citizens of Florala, who have been just great to my guys. They’ve been so gracious to us and it means a lot.

“When it’s all said and done, this is going to be a facility to be proud of,” he said.