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CMSD explores designating Hunt a Historic Landmark

 

Jason Spears and Cherie Labat

Jason Spears and Cherie Labat

 

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Months after a former Columbus school was designated for State Landmark status, Columbus Municipal School District plans to apply for the same designation for its sister school, district officials said Friday. 

 

Representatives from Mississippi Department of Archives and History attended a school board meeting Thursday during which they answered questions from board members about how to start the application process for Hunt High School on 20th Street North to become a historic landmark -- and how that status might affect the district's current and future plans for the facility. 

 

In May, MDAH designated the old Lee High School building on Military Road a State Landmark as part of an agreement to sell the property to Columbus businessman Scott Berry. 

 

At the time, the CMSD board had expressed its desire to also request Landmark designation for the former Hunt High School, but had yet to officially make the request to the MDAH. 

 

MDAH designated Lee a landmark based on the role the school played during segregation and integration. 

 

The delay in seeking landmark designation for Hunt is "not racial," CMSD board president Jason Spears said after Thursday's meeting. 

 

"Lee and Hunt are two separate issues," Spears said. "Lee (was) surplus property and Hunt is still in active use by the school district." 

 

Designed by the same architect, both Lee (for white students) and Hunt (for black students) opened in 1952 in the waning years of segregation. The schools integrated in 1970 and Lee was converted to the city's middle school in 1993 before closing in 2011. Hunt, though no longer a high school, has remained in use by the district in a variety of functions. 

 

CMSD superintendent Cherie Labat said Hunt is used as the site of the district's alternative school, Success Academy, which serves 19 students, and hosts the district's in-house suspension classroom, which serves 25 students. East Mississippi Community College uses the school for some of its workforce development classes while a part of the school is home to Hunt Museum, which preserves history of the city's black community. 

 

Labat said the Hunt property is part of the district's capital improvement plan. 

 

"We were concerned with how the landmark designation might affect those plans," Labat said. "There are things we would like to add, including G.E.D. testing and expanding the workforce training to make it available to people in the community. We wanted to know if the landmark designation would impede those plans and, beyond that, what the process would be." 

 

Jim Woodrick, Deputy State Historical Director for MDAH, who fielded questions during the meeting, said he understood the board's concern. 

 

"At the meeting, I emphasized that being a landmark doesn't mean you can't do anything with the building, which is a common misperception," Woodrick said. "In fact, the regulations are very flexible. The goal is to make these landmarks useable facilities and our staff works with owners to make that happen." 

 

Labat said she left the meeting "very encouraged." 

 

"I think we all left feeling that the landmark designation wouldn't take away from what we wanted to do," she said. "In fact, after to listening to the representatives from the MDAH, we can see where it might open up some grant opportunities we could take advantage of. We were excited to hear that." 

 

Woodrick said MDAH staff will work with the district to put together an application for landmark status. 

 

"Once that is done, the application will be presented to the MDAH board at its monthly or quarterly meeting," Woodrick said. "The board will then set a 30-day period for public comment and after that, the board will consider all that information and make its decision." 

 

Woodrick said the process usually takes no more than a few months.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]

 

 

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