City to honor Battle, renew monument

Tuesday, August 26, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:38 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Columbia will remember the legacy of prominent local educator Muriel Battle and the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with a renewed push to renovate the city’s memorial to the slain civil rights leader.

Installed 10 years ago at the Stadium Boulevard entrance to the MKT Nature-Fitness Trail, the memorial has been hit hard by environmental damage over the years.

“Remembering the Dream: A Tribute to Muriel Battle” will be held Thursday at the Holiday Inn Select Executive Center. Battle, a community leader and former associate superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, died in May. She was an early supporter of efforts to create the memorial.

Leigh Nutter, volunteer coordinator for the city, expects more than 250 supporters to turn out for the event Thursday.

Battle’s husband, Eliot Battle, said he is “very honored to have Muriel’s name attached to the fund-raiser.” The renovation, he said, “is long overdue.”

Eliot Battle serves on the board of directors for the New Century Fund, a charitable organization and conduit for the city of Columbia to receive tax-deductible gifts from corporations and individuals. The fund is working with the Memorial Restoration Committee to raise $100,000, which would cover the estimated total cost of repairing damage and provide money for future maintenance. The committee has received donations of more than $67,000. Members hope Thursday’s benefit will bring them closer to the $80,000 they need to begin renovations.

Water has been the primary cause of damage to the memorial. A white crust of calcium carbonate has gradually formed on the amphitheater, which was designed by artist Barbara Grygutis.

The King memorial began as a collaborative grassroots effort between volunteers, the artist and the city. No money was originally set aside for maintenance, but Marie Hunter, manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs, says annual maintenance is essential.

“All outdoor artwork needs some sort of maintenance,” she said.

Russell-Marti Conservation Services of California, Mo., did the in-depth survey of damage to the memorial and has been hired to lead the repair effort and to train city staff on damage assessment and maintenance.

Nutter expects that the renovation will begin by November and should take between 18 months and two years. “This is not a quick fix. The city wants to make sure it’s permanent.”

The conservator will first remove damaged blue tile and granite then repair disintegrating grout and finally divert water from the memorial. Only part of the memorial will be reassembled at first to allow city officials and Russell-Marti to see how the new materials hold up to the weather.

Hunter said the memorial will never be immune to the forces of nature. “After all, it’s outdoors 365 days a year.”

The city is taking care to maintain the artistic integrity of the memorial while ensuring the work will survive without major damage, Hunter said. “We don’t want to be in this position again.”

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