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IRT to leave Florala project

Today is the last day “on the job” for members of the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s Innovative Readiness Team (IRT), the group responsible for the majority of the construction on Florala’s Lake Jackson State Park project.

Chief Phillip Watkins said while he will remain on site “for a little longer,” his troops will pack up and go home on Saturday.

In September 2008, the State Parks Joint Legislative Committee approved the $1 million project to build a multi-purpose community building and amphitheater. The IRT program, which committed an additional $1 million in labor and equipment, arrived for work in March. Since then, the look of the property has changed dramatically from a wood frame and block structure to a stucco, brick and windowed fronted community center and a 600-seat outdoor amphitheater.

Work progressed quickly on the 10,400 square-foot building and site, but heavy rains in late March and early April made work “appear slow.” The troops worked quickly to put construction back on schedule.

On Thursday, the IRT was putting the finishing touches on the steps of the amphitheater and contractors were installing the front doors.

Watkins said the interior sheetrock walls need to be painted and the tile floor installed.

“There is still a bit of interior work that needs to be done,” Watkins said. “As well as the outside sidewalk and parking lot, but all of that will be under the direction of the general contractor. A ballpark figure, though, is that it should be ‘turn key’ in about two months.

“After we leave, the city and the state will have crews come in, under the direction of the general contractor, and finish things out,” he said.

Thursday afternoon, the troops were treated to a “going away party” thrown by Florala citizens.

“This has been a tremendous opportunity for my personnel,” Watkins said. “What we did here — the work on this building — is the name of the game for us. We’re here to get experience in our fields that we can use during wartime.

“We’ve been so well received by the community, so all in all, I can say this has been a great experience,” he said. “All of the IRT appreciates the opportunity to come down and help.”

The maintenance, upkeep and booking of the facility is the state park’s responsibility, state park employee Joe Drakkar said.

“We won’t be taking reservations for the building until after all the work is complete,” Drakkar said. “I expect that to come in a few short months we’ll know exactly when we can open and how much the fees are.”

Drakkar said anyone interested in renting the facility is welcome to call the Florala State Park office at 334-858-6425.