Historic buildings given new lives

Published 2:36 am Monday, June 15, 2009

COLUMBUS (AP) — Columbus Municipal School District officials are working to ensure abandoned school buildings soon will have new purpose.

And Mississippi University for Women officials are looking at ways to use the building formerly occupied by Demonstration Elementary School.

Built in 1929, Demonstration Elementary School was the first laboratory school for teacher education in the state. Last used by the Columbus schools in 2004, the facility is one of 23 buildings on the MUW campus listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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‘‘MUW has submitted funding proposals for projects that would include renovating and refurbishing Demonstration School, so that we could put this building back to use,’’ said Nora R. Miller, vice present for finance and administration at MUW.

Miller said the building could be used for ‘‘swing space’’ — for use when other buildings are undergoing renovations — additional classroom space, for community outreach space and grants activity or for a future site for campus dining and retail space.

‘‘The large classrooms and wide hallways of this building make the facility very attractive for multipurpose use,’’ she said.

The building formerly occupied by Hughes Alternative School periodically is used by the Columbus Police Department for training exercises and has served as a state and national evacuation shelter for the American Red Cross.

Built in 1957, Hughes shared the building with Stokes-Beard Elementary School following a 2001 tornado that destroyed Stokes-Beard, but with the construction of a new Stokes-Beard facility — the first new school in Columbus — Hughes, which formerly had been an elementary school, was closed in 2003. Hughes students were moved to Union Academy prior to Union’s closing and are now housed in the Columbus schools’ administrative building.

During his reorganization plans, Columbus schools superintendent Del Phillips promised community members the district would be ‘‘diligent’’ in finding buyers or leasers for the buildings formerly occupied by Union Academy and Mitchell Memorial Elementary School.

Mitchell and Union were closed in 2008 based on a recommendation from Phillips, who said the population of students at each school was too low to continue in a fiscally responsible way.

Mitchell Memorial was built, in 1924, on a 4-acre site, with six elementary classrooms. An annex was added in 1953, with nine rooms.

The school district currently is pursuing selling the Mitchell property but recently also are considering using the facility as an alternative school, since the Lowndes County School District soon will be sending alternative students to the Columbus alternative school.

Union Academy was constructed in 1962 on the site of a former Union Academy building built in 1903. Originally occupying a Southside location, Union Academy was the first free public school for African-Americans in Columbus.

Columbus school officials reported the district has signed a lease with The Recruitment and Training Program of Mississippi Inc., a nonprofit program for community members who have lost jobs.

RTP Inc. is expected to occupy the Union Academy site July 1.

‘‘The district is following through on its promise to ensure these buildings will remain a positive in our community,’’ Phillips said of the leasing of Union Academy and plans for Mitchell.