January 31, 2012 2:05:00 PM
By DANIELLE THOMAS
GULFPORT -- The $23 million question is whether or not a former high school for African Americans is a historic building.
The 33rd Avenue School in Gulfport which now houses Job Corps was once an all-black school during the years of segregation.
A historic designation would bring the federal government's plans to tear down the school and replace it with a new facility to a screeching halt.
"This is where your grandmother and grandfather went to school, right here," Delinda Young told her young grandson as they stood recently in front of the Gulfport building.
Delinda and her husband Larry Young said many of the values they're teaching their grandchildren they learned while attending 33rd Avenue school.
"I went to school here from like the fourth grade all the way through high school," Delinda Young said. "It was just my life."
"My most fond moments have been experienced at this location here. All the friends that I've cultivated all my life and care most about come out of this institution here," Larry Young said.
The school closed after integration then re-emerged in the late 70s as home to the Gulfport Job Corps. Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the building, which is owned by the City of Gulfport.
City Chief Administrator John Kelly said the U.S. Department of Labor is about to use $23 million to build a new Job Corps administration building and workshop after tearing down 33rd.
However, if 33rd is deemed historic, Kelly said the government would have to renovate and restore the building.
"Job Corps structural engineers say because of the amount of damage and because building codes have changed drastically, that the building cannot be restored and has to be demolished.
"The community is saying, because it was a historic African American high school, they don't want a part of their culture destroyed," Kelly said.
"I think we need a second opinion, maybe a third. Sometimes the first engineer you meet may not be the one that can do it. It may be beyond his skill level, a challenge. He doesn't want to be challenged. I can't hear that when they say it can't be saved," Larry Young added.
Boyd James III also has fond memories of the school. His father taught there.
"One of the problems now days is that Black history and the way we live seems to be destroyed. That must not be destroyed. That must be preserved. At this school there was discipline.
"At this school there was prayer. At this school there were not the problems that exist today. Instead of tearing this school down, they need to rebuild this school," James said.
There will be a public hearing about 33rd Avenue High School at Gulfport City Hall on Feb. 9
The Department of Labor has asked the Historic Preservation advisory council to expedite its usual review process and make a determination on the school by March 12.
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