COLUMBIA — Lawmakers say a revised plan cutting more than $1 million from a proposed display of the Confederate battle flag that was removed from Statehouse grounds this summer still is too high a price tag for South Carolina taxpayers.
The S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Commission on Tuesday approved presenting a $3.6 million plan to the General Assembly to construct the display. The panel’s initial $5.3 million proposal was criticized as too expensive by a number of lawmakers and others.
The lower amount was reached by eliminating money to repair a roof and convert a courtyard into landscaped space and by reducing construction and display costs, according to The Associated Press.
The finalized proposal includes expanding the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum into a 4,700-square-foot space above the current museum, stairs to the second floor, an extension to the entrance, and a high-tech digital display of fallen South Carolina soldiers.
“I think it’s too much money to be spent on that,” said Rep. Chris Corley, R-Graniteville. “To put millions of dollars to display a flag that is not a historical flag itself? ... The group that didn’t want it to come down, I’m not sure if that’s the trade-off they knew they were getting.”
Rep. Mary Tinkler, D-Charleston, was one of the legislators who supported moving the flag for “appropriate display” in the relic room and said she was not expecting the cost to be so high.
“This, still, at $3.6 million, is far too expensive of a proposal,” Tinkler said. “I don’t know that that was what any of us were thinking of as an appropriate display when we began this process in July.”
Tinkler pre-filed a bill earlier this month that would require the state to use only private donations for the flag display.
The Relic Room and Military Commission voted Tuesday to approve the feasibility study, conducted by consultants Watson Tate Savory Architects Inc. and Haley Sharpe Design, and on Wednesday sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee.
Museum Director Allen Roberson said the expansion is necessary because there is no room in the current facility to properly house the flag.
“The whole point of this thing is ... to as much as possible bring a final resolution to this,” he said, adding that at the end of the day it was up to the General Assembly to accept or alter the plans. “This is just a feasibility study. It’s the proposal and we think it’s the right proposal.”
The commission was tasked in July with considering how to display the flag after lawmakers voted to move it from the Statehouse memorial to the Columbia museum following the mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. Plans were to be presented to the General Assembly by the beginning of 2016.
Nine black worshippers, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, were killed June 17 during a Bible study, allegedly by a white supremacist who posed in online pictures with the rebel flag.
Corley, who earlier this month pre-filed a bill calling for a referendum that would let voters decide whether the Confederate battle flag should be restored to its previous place on the Statehouse grounds, said the planning needs to “start from scratch” with an ad-hoc committee determining the best way to display the flag.
“They want to spend millions of dollars on a flag that was made a year and a half ago, probably overseas and that’s probably nylon, and wasn’t present at any battles,” he said, adding that he didn’t like the proposed design including a digital display of fallen soldiers. “You’re supposed to be a museum. There’s supposed to be some dignity to it. You’re not supposed to make it as tacky as possible.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.