COLUMBIA — Consultants are proposing spending $5.3 million in tax money on a museum display of the Confederate battle flag removed from the Statehouse grounds.
The plan includes expanding the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum into a nearly 4,700-square-foot space above the current museum, stairs to the second floor, an extension to the entrance, and renovation of an outdoor courtyard adjacent to the proposed new gallery space.
The gallery would include an educational area, several versions of Confederate flags, interactive components, and the memorial and display of the flag from the Statehouse — something that is expected to be a big-ticket item.
The consultants, Watson Tate Savory Architects Inc. and Haley Sharpe Design, presented their recommendation Thursday to the seven-member S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Commission. 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.
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.
The $5.3 million does not include annual expenses of $416,000 for security, staffing and the rental fee the state charges for the building space occupied by the museum.
The flag display’s proposed cost dwarfs the $1.1 million spent in 2001 to sculpt and erect the African American Monument on the Statehouse grounds. That monument was commissioned as part of the Legislature’s compromise to remove the Confederate flag from atop the Capitol dome to the Confederate Soldier Monument in front of the Statehouse.
As part of the flag exhibit and memorial, Alisdair Hinshelwood, with Haley Sharpe, proposed using a MicroTile wall to display the names of the thousands of Confederate soldiers who died in South Carolina during the Civil War.
“What we can actually do is allow all names to cascade down,” he said. “We can imbed imagery — a human face or flags or landscape. ... But I have to admit, this is an expensive installation. If you go for something that has this much drama.”
Commission members instructed the museum’s director, Allen Roberson, and the consultants to finalize a feasibility study. According to a House resolution passed during the flag debate, the museum has until Jan. 1 to come up with a proposal and a budget for the flag’s exhibit.
Once the feasibility study is complete, it would be presented to the General Assembly, which would have to approve the design and the money.
Commission Chairman George Dorn, a past director of the State Budget Office, said he expected the cost would be several million dollars.
Commission members’ main concern was ensuring that the exhibit properly honored fallen Confederate soldiers.
“It is a memorial and it is a place to be revered,” said commission member Martha Van Schaick, past national president general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Roberson said museum staff would prepare accompanying text for the exhibit, which could mention the Emanuel shooting as part of the history of the flag and be displayed on a back wall away from the Statehouse flag and memorial.
“I’m not going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — we haven’t gotten to that part yet,” he said. “From our first involvement in this ... we’ve been extremely conscious of what happened in Charleston. There’s a lot of division. And we’ve been very conscious of that part of the story.”
The commission expects to meet again before the end of the month.
Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.