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26 March 2008
Dr. William A. Meehan:
When Dreams Become Reality

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News

The Dream:

Nearly a year ago, ground was broken for a center dedicated to education, tourism and economic development to benefit the people and the environment.

The Canyon Center, located near the Highway 35 bridge near the Cherokee and DeKalb County line, is part of Jacksonville State University’s vision to unite people with the wondrous world around them, providing them a place to learn, experience and explore.

Director of JSU Field Schools and Environmental Policy and Information Center (EPIC) Pete Conroy says, “We are seeking to impact a relatively low income region of Alabama with a high end educational facility.”

The Reality:

The long awaited Canyon Center is now a 25,000 square foot reality and will be open to the public by early 2009 for tours, classes, conferences, meeting and the JSU Field School programs. With the first phase nearly complete, one of the main projects for the next phase is an amphitheater to seat 3,500.

The center is also close to completing an environmentally friendly parking project. Instead of simply bulldozing through the land to create one rectangular lot, the staff at the center has been working with contractors to plan parking around trees and other natural barriers.

The Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) registered building is full of resourceful and not wasteful characteristics: Added insulation, water conservation features, an advanced indoor air quality system and geothermal climate control.

With 36 wells, each 300 feet deep, this is one of the largest geothermal buildings in the state.

The ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) garner energy from within the earth, providing a natural heating and cooling source.

Hopefully, visitors can learn about concepts such as geothermal energy, climate change and the heat island effect through exhibits.

Originally, a $700,000 museum was part of the second phase of building the Canyon Center, however, with limited resources, new steps are being taken.

“We are now aggressively pursuing funding for exhibits,” says Conroy.

A strong emphasis will be placed on the educational missions of the National Park Service and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The Canyon Center will be like a public country club for educating and exploring.

It is big economic development in a low income area; sock mills are not this region’s fiscal future — education and tourism will be.

Conroy says, “Currently, the JSU Field School program is limited only by staff and resources.”

There is such an overwhelming number of people desiring to participate in Field School activities throughout the year that the program accepts participants on a first come, first serve basis and has to turn the rest away.

With a larger supply of resources, the staff could be expanded to serve the growing population of Field School attendees.

Field Schools and EPIC have many engaging partnerships with businesses, organizations and individuals who help benefit the vision of the Canyon Center.

Recently, JSU was fortunate to receive a $50,000 donation from the DeKalb County Commission towards a beautiful entryway for the center many of its citizens will use for years to come.

The National Park Service is working toward a plan to procure a lease agreement to benefit both its employees and those of the new center in a shared use of space.

Superintendent John Bundy says, “We’ve been in contact with [the General Services Administration] and told them we have a need for increased space and the best space around is the center.”

Bundy has recently gotten approval from Washington and Atlanta offices to go ahead and begin working toward this merger.

GSA will come out and evaluate the area and barring any major disasters, the National Park Service will be able to unite with the center and begin an arrangement.

Bundy says, “We’re excited about the opportunity to bring our staffs together.”

For more information, or to view photos of the Canyon Center’s progress, visit

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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