Thursday, October 23, 2008
Future of MI College property draws interest
By SUE WATSON
Future plans for the old Mississippi Industrial College campus property, now owned by Rust College, were discussed at a large public hearing at the Beckley Center Friday.
In attendance were graduates of MI College, Rust College staff and students, members of the Rust College board of trustees, and a number of community notables including Bishop Thomas Brown, Alderman Tim Liddy, Mayor Andre’ DeBerry, Del Stover, and Sam Agnew, with Mississippi Main Street, and Jerry Bolden.
President David Beckley said the public meeting was to bring community stakeholders and their ideas to the table “to see what we can do in restoring MI property.”
“Hopefully, with your commitment we can go to the next step,” he said.
Currently, ICS Head Start is the only major tenant on the property.
Rust College purchased the MI property in August, less the apartment complex on Woodward Drive, and the exterior of structures on campus have been evaluated by structural engineers who estimate that Carnegie Hall will require $8 million or more to restore, Beckley said.
Beckley said in a visit on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., he learned that the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will come and inspect the structures on the MI campus to see if any are sound enough to rehabilitate and safe enough to inspect.
If the structure is sound, Rust College could apply for a dollar-to-dollar federal matching grant for restoration work, he said.
Two structures on the Rust College Campus were restored with the college match reduced to a quarter per federal dollar, he said. Those projects cost $1.5 million to restore.
Some work is being done by the college physical plant and maintenance department to weatherize the old president's home at the MI campus. The work included roof repair and new shingles and replacement of windows.
The college will invest in a site marker in recognition of the service MI contributed to the city, state and nation, Beckley said.
The floor was opened for questions and suggestions with Industrial Development Authority interim director Del Stover suggesting the state of Mississippi might want to put a Northwest Community College Campus on the property as it has in other towns and cities.
Christine Harris, a student, suggested one of the old structures be restored for a men’s dormitory and another for housing students with families. Another student suggested a recreation center be constructed. A political science student suggested a building for sociology and political science is needed badly.
Liddy said restoration of structures is a good idea, but there is a point of no return where old buildings are not cost-effective to restore. Federal money would be required because the kind of money needed will not be forthcoming from the state, he said.
He suggested that artifacts found during any restoration or demolition work can be saved, some reused, and some sold to raise money for future construction needs.
“As an alderman, I hope the city will work to help to restore,” he said.
Tearing buildings down is the last option, Beckley said.
“It’s not even on our agenda at this point,” he said.
“You need to think of history. You are saving an institution, not just a building,” Liddy said.
Whatever is done has to be self-sustaining, said the Alumni Association president.
Dr. William Harris of Yazoo City said the state has provided $300,000 to stabilize the first Afro hospital in the state for museum use.
“Money may be tight, but we still got money from the state,” he said.
Beckley said if the Carnigie Hall can be restored, a number have suggested using it as a community theatre and auditorium which could be used by the city and county.
The basic use of the property is for education of black youth according to the CME covenants, he said.
Wayne Fiddis wants to see the campuses connected by a walkway over Memphis Street.
Bishop Brown explained that the CME Church has worked “diligently” to make use of the property which has been mostly idle for 25 years.
“In hindsight, something should have been done earlier,” he said.
MI alumni and history are tied to the property, he said.
“I am with you.”
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