After two years of sometimes emotional debate over the future of Alamo Plaza, work is set to begin this week on the first visible phase of the $300 million 're-imagining' of the Alamo complex, the long delayed renovation of the Long Barrack, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The Long Barrack, which was the Convento of the original Alamo Mission, was built in 1724 and is among the oldest extant structures in Texas.
Karina Erickson of the Texas General Land Office, which manages the Alamo and has entered into a 50 year lease for management of Alamo Plaza, says the renovation work was critical to the project.
"First we are looking at structural integrity," she said. "Next we are looking at the structure and structural integrity for the entire building."
Concerns about the physical preservation of the Alamo was what prompted the Texas Legislature to strip control of the Alamo from the private Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 2011 and turn it over to the GLO. It has always been clear that preservation of the historic structures is first and foremost the priority of the controversial project.
Erickson says first they ahve to obtain some indication of the depth and extent of the structural weakness of the Alamo, which includes what is called 'rising damp,' which is where ground water over time seeps up inside stone walls, threatening the structure including the roof.
"Investigations like this will help measure and determine the nature and the extent of the danger to both the church and the Long Barrack," she said.
Teh constuction equipment which is now on site won't be going away for a long time. The plan is to make many structural changes to the Alamo and to the Plaza. They include moving the Cenotaph from its current location about 500 feet south to what was supposed to be its original location, in front of the Menger Hotel. Alamo Plaza will be enlarged with the closing of Alamo and Houston Streets, and will be 'deliniated' to give visitors an idea of the area covered by the 1836 battle.
The GLO has alos purchased the historic buildings to the west of Alamo Street. They will be tested to determine if they are capable of housing the 'world class museum' which will be at the heart of the project. If not, they may be demolished to make way for a new building which will serve as a center point of a visit to the Alamo.
But civil rights groups are actively working for the former Woolworth Building, which is where the desegregation of the lunch counter in March of 1960 led to the march toward equality in public accommodations throughout San Antonio, to be preseved as a museum of civil rights.
The key to all of this, Erickson says, is making sure the basic structures are structurally sound.
"We're looking at the wall and the foundation, even the several different types of clay that the original builders were using," she said. "The goal is to make sure that the building really does last for another 300 years."
The ambitious project, which will be largely funded by private donations raised by the Alamo Foundation, is set to be completed by 2024, to mark the 300th anniversary of the Alamo Mission at its current location.