Fire broke out at Laurel’s Stewart M. Jones Middle School last Friday evening, gutting one of the three wings of the historic building. The school building, one of the finest examples of high-style Georgian Revival in the state, was built in 1927 and designed by prominent Meridian architect P.J. Krouse (who also designed the Meridian City Hall ). It is one of the few school buildings in the state built on an E-Plan floorplan–where the auditorium forms the center wing and two classroom wings are at the ends. The fire damaged the southern classroom wing and the southern section of the main block, and according to the newspaper article, water and smoke damage extends into the auditorium wing as well.
With the assistance of the wealth of manpower, modern equipment, and a firewall, the fire was contained to the southern portion of the building. But, other areas, including the school’s auditorium, did receive smoke and water damage.
The destroyed portion included several classrooms and the school’s library.
“I saw a very historic building in our community that had gone up in flames,” Laurel School District board member Rev. Earnest Thompson said. “Think of the years in that building: the students, the faculty, how they cherish this historic site. To see the building go up in flames is heartbreaking.”
This quote by Miranda Beard, the school board president gives me hope that the building will be repaired:
“We’re thankful there were no children in the facility,” Beard said. “School ended Thursday. We hate the loss. We’ll have to access the damage. Restoration, I’m sure, is possible.”
The school was just finishing a major renovation, part of which was funded through a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The building is a designated Mississippi Landmark.