When it came time to start knocking down parts of the visitors center along Interstate 95, just inside the Georgia-South Carolina state line, Ann Purcell wanted to be at the controls.
The state transportation board member pulled the levers that knocked down the first bricks to fall as the demolition and ensuing recreation of the visitors center got under way.
“I want to do my darnedest to knock the first brick out of the welcome center,” Purcell said in March.
According to the state DOT, the existing visitors center was built in 1979, but it cannot accommodate the increase in visitors, which now tops 2 million annually. A renovation and addition to the visitors center was proposed in 2007 but was put on hold in 2008.
When the DOT brought the project back up, it was determined a new facility was a better solution than a renovation or an addition.
The existing visitors center is about 5,500 square feet, and it will be replaced by a 21,000 square foot building, with 4,250 square feet of exhibit space. The entrance and exit ramps off I-95 will not be changed but the parking areas will be revised. Instead of the current 140 spaces, there will be 160 spaces, along with 20 handicap-accessible spots.
The visitors center will remain open during the process, with a small, temporary restroom and an information center in the parking lot for semi-trucks.
Construction of the new visitors center was approved at $9.8 million.
“We’ve got nine welcome centers,” Purcell said, “and every one of them needs something done.”