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National Guard to reclaim Wallace center for medical detachment

The Alabama National Guard Medical Detachment will use the former Lurleen B. Wallace Center. Personnel at the ribbon cutting included Lt. Col. Alice Lessmann of Madison, from left, detachment chief nurse; Maj. Gen. Perry Smith; and Lt. Col. Inez Withers of Madison.
The Alabama National Guard Medical Detachment will use the former Lurleen B. Wallace Center. Personnel at the ribbon cutting included Lt. Col. Alice Lessmann of Madison, from left, detachment chief nurse; Maj. Gen. Perry Smith; and Lt. Col. Inez Withers of Madison.

MADISON – The Alabama National Guard has reclaimed a state property for use by troops in the Alabama Medical Detachment.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the facility in Decatur on Aug. 8. The 160-acre site will feature barracks, medical treatment rooms, dining room, maintenance and support buildings, fitness center, classrooms and field training areas.

“The Lurleen B. Wallace Center had been a mental health facility at one time and has been shut down since 2003,” Lt. Col. Alice Lessmann of Madison said. “This was quite an opportunity for both sides, the state and Alabama National Guard, to make use of this facility once again. It will take quite a bit of reconstruction.”

Gov. Robert Bentley and Alabama Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Perry Smith officiated at the ceremony. “This event is very exciting to the Alabama Medical Detachment because it provides soldiers a strategic location in the northern region of Alabama,” Lessmann said. “We had quite a few local soldiers from Madison, Huntsville and across Alabama.”

Officials at the medical detachment ceremony included behavioral science specialist Donna Marsh, Gov. Robert Bentley, Capt. Eric Seemann of Huntsville and Sen. Arthur Orr.
Officials at the medical detachment ceremony included behavioral science specialist Donna Marsh, Gov. Robert Bentley, Capt. Eric Seemann of Huntsville and Sen. Arthur Orr.

The state-owned Lurleen B. Wallace Center on U.S. 31 in Decatur now will be authorized for federal funding support. “Gov. Lurleen B. Wallace, who served from January 1967 to May 1968, passionately worked to expand service for mental health,” Lessman said.

The center opened on Sept. 1, 1971 with 40 residents, which at the time was Alabama’s first regional center. “This facility reached its peak in 1975 with more than 400 residents but did not continue the upward trend and closed its doors on Oct. 13, 2003 with only 46 residents at the time,” Lessmann said.

“Now, after ten years, this facility will thrive once again with a different purpose through the Alabama National Guard,” she said.

Construction will require several years to complete. Estimated site completion is 2018 and will include a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Training Center. “The facility investment plan estimates a cost of $9 million over four years and a demolition cost of $1 million over 5 years,” Lessmann said.

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