Rainy weather last weekend cast a pallor that hung over Hattiesburg and provided a mood to match the endangered condition of several of that fair city’s landmark structures.
Easton School having been victim of years of neglect by the City of Hattiesburg is in ever worsening shape. Despite the recent promise of $70,000 the stabilization work appears to be too little too late. Some blocking and wires have been installed in an attempt to stabilize the building. The city has decided to submit an application for a Community Heritage Preservation Grant(CHPG) from MDAH. City Engineer Lamar Rutland put it best in an article announcing that the city would be applying for a $1 million grant from MDAH.
“Keep in mind, they only have ($1.6 million to $1.8 million) total, so our chances of getting that $1 million are very slim, but we are going to ask for it anyway,” City Engineer Lamar Rutland Hattiesburg American Oct 5, 2015
Parts of the roof framing and the second story walls have fallen in since this article ran and will only add to the cost of the project. Had the city taken care of this building years ago it would not cost the proposed $1.2 million+ to repair the structure. Is there a snowball’s chance in South Mississippi that the city will receive the grant? CHPG are usually announced in December when flurries might just fly. It all depends how much competition there is for the funding this year.
On the other side of downtown, the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church has not had any repair or stabilization done since immediately after the February 2013 tornado. After the tornado, the church’s insurer said the church’s policy was cancelled. A later court case determined that the insurance company did not have legal grounds to cancel the insurance policy, but this non-legal activity prevented access to funds that should have been used to stabilize the building immediately after the storm. The church is currently eligible for up to 13.2 million in FEMA public assistance grants. While the church still has an active congregation, news of possible foreclosure in 2012 has complicated matters for the structure. On September 30, 2015 the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit assessing the church’s ability to comply with FEMA public assistance grant requirements. You can read the audit yourself but the OIG recommends that FEMA provide added technical assistance and monitoring to ensure that Mt. Carmel will avoid misspending the FEMA funding that it will receive. Mt. Carmel has 90 days to respond to the audit. Hopefully this means stabilization work can begin soon. If not, the price tag for the repairs will only continue to grow.
Last but not least, cheap student housing is going up on the site of the Beverly Drive-In. Rubbing salt in the wound the development is called “Village at the Beverly” and “Village at the Beverly II.” I guess “Village where an irreplaceable piece of Americana was destroyed by fire” wouldn’t fit on the sign.
While the picture is bleak, hope is not all lost. Structures like Hattiesburg High School and the Hattiesburg Depot were in conditions similar to or worse than the current state of Eaton School or Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. The key factor was a vision and desire to see the buildings return to their former beauty. The work is not easy and it may never be done, but the end product makes it worthwhile.