CMSD taps architecture firm to design Hunt restoration


Labat and Guild

Labat and Guild



Zack Plair



Columbus Municipal School District has tapped an architecture firm to design the restoration project for the former Hunt High School.


The board voted unanimously Monday night to hire Eley Guild Hardy Architects, which has offices in Jackson and Biloxi. According to the proposal, the district will pay the firm 5.5 percent of the total construction costs if they exceed $10 million; 5.75 percent if they are between $5 million but less than $10 million; and 6 percent if they are less than $5 million.


Superintendent Cherie Labat told The Dispatch she and an interviewing committee selected Eley Guild Hardy from among three firms that submitted proposals.



"They were the lowest and best bid," she said. "... They have an impeccable reputation for their workmanship as well as their working relationship with school districts. They will take the extra steps necessary to make sure the community gets something we can be proud of."


A February tornado badly damaged the Hunt campus -- which housed the district's alternative school, after-school programs and an African-American cultural heritage museum operated by a local nonprofit -- tearing off a large portion of the roof and rendering the building inoperable. CMSD expects its insurance, along with disaster relief funds from the federal and state emergency management agencies, to cover restoration costs.


The new design will incorporate room for the cultural heritage museum.


Hunt, which served as the city's school for black students in the final years of segregation, is also deemed a state landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. That means restoration efforts must meet certain historic preservation standards.


Taylor Guild III, president for Eley Guild Hardy, said the firm has plenty of experience with designing schools, restoring historic buildings and working with emergency management agencies. The Hunt design won't even be the first time the firm has dealt with all three of those elements in the same project.


The firm worked with 12 school districts on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It also designed restorations for Harned and Montgomery halls at Mississippi State University and is designing work for the Lyceum at the University of Mississippi.


Guild said the firm is about 30 percent finished re-designing an old African-American high school on 33rd Avenue in Gulfport, a situation he said was very similar to Hunt's. The Gulfport campus, he said, was being used as a Job Corps workforce center when Katrina damaged it. Initially, Job Corps planned to tear it down and build a new campus, Guild said, but community members rallied to restore it -- especially since the city's segregation era white campus had been preserved.


Eley Guild Hardy took on design within the past year, Guild said.


In Columbus, MDAH did landmark Lee High School on Military Road, the segregation era white campus, first to accommodate an ongoing redevelopment project there. Hunt, on 20th Street North, wasn't landmarked until nearly a year later, with MDAH approval coming after the storm battered the building.


Guild said the challenge for any historical redesign is bringing the building up to current code -- particularly with things like Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility and elevator installation -- while remaining compliant with MDAH.


"We are very close to Archives and History," he said. "... We have a good working relationship, but when they don't agree with something, it's tough."


Also, the firm will work diligently to keep the gap between total project costs and what insurance/disaster relief funds will pay as narrow as possible, Guild said.


"The community is going to be ecstatic about what's there when the project is finished," he said.


In other business, the board recognized Sherita O'Neal, a fifth grade science teacher at Cook Elementary, as CMSD's teacher of the year; and Kimberly Gardner, Stokes-Beard Elementary principal, as administrator of the year.



Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.



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