Plans for a railway museum in west Oak Ridge are still on track, volunteers said Monday.
It had recently appeared that the decade-old proposal could derail. During its Sept. 10 meeting, the Oak Ridge City Council agreed to give City Manager Mark Watson permission to send a letter to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, asking them to keep the $480,000 grant for the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum at the former K-25 site in west Oak Ridge.
But during a Monday night City Council meeting, Watson said he hasn’t sent the letter yet. And board members of the nonprofit SARM said they are working quickly, hoping to assure the city manager of the project’s long-term sustainability.
The board members said the museum’s size has been reduced to 3,600 square feet and its estimated cost has been lowered to less than $900,000. They’re working on a plan for interior displays at the museum, completed basic environmental permitting, and expect to meet a Nov. 1 state deadline.
“We’ve had a lot of fast peddling to do to get caught up to this point,” said Charlie Poling, SARM museum director.
SARM President Scott Lindsey said funding for the museum would include the $480,000 state grant, $120,000 raised by the museum, and $300,000 from the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, or CROET.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Lindsey said.
The museum would be built next to the current Wheat boarding station at K-25, now renamed the Heritage Center. That station is now used for SARM’s Secret City Scenic Excursion Train.
Although no city money would be involved in the museum project, Watson has warned that the municipal government is the grantee, so the financial obligations would ultimately be the city’s responsibility. SARM members said they have presented Watson with financial information on the project.
If the work proceeds, Poling said museum construction could start in the late winter or early spring, and Lindsey said it could take about nine months. Located on a few acres donated by CROET, the museum would include interior and exterior displays, office space, and a platform.
The Oak Ridge City Council agreed to apply for the TDOT grant in 2000.
Watson had earlier said SARM has many hurdles to overcome before Nov. 1, including major design revisions, a National Environmental Policy Act environmental clearance for the new site, identification of the right-of-way, and design review. On Monday, he said there has been a “lot of movement” in the past four weeks.