Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bump in the Road for New County Annex Building?

Representatives of the Mississippi Department of Archives and
History were in Louisville on Tuesday to visit with locals. Arranged by former State Senator Giles Ward, the lunch meeting was open to the public but most participants were county and city officials and members of the local Louisville Historical Preservation Commission. Michelle Jones and Barry White with MDAH spoke of the role of the Department before discussions of the local issue at hand.

FEMA funding after the April 2014 tornado afforded Winston County the opportunity to build new and additional space for county needs. Current plans involve the demolition of the current structure known as the County Annex and the construction of a 3 level structure on that site to house Emergency Management, the Winston County Sheriff’s Office and provide offices and a larger meeting room for the Board of Supervisors. EMA would be housed on the lowest level and that area would serve as a storm shelter. The ground floor level would be utilized by the Sheriff’s Department and the upper floor would serve the Supervisors’ needs.

The possible designation of the existing structure as a historical structure by MDAH has placed a hold on those plans. The structure which was built in 1948 as part of the 1946 National Health Survey and Construction Act to modernize rural health care after WWII is qualified as a historical structure but does not have that status currently. Should the building be declared historically significant, it could slow or halt any construction plans of the county.

MDAH has the authority under state law to prevent demolition of a property that they deem to be a historical asset

MDAH officials made suggestions including new construction at a
different location or remodeling the existing building and/or adding a connecting new structure to meet the county’s needs. MDAH touted the option of saving the structure by stressing possible job creation through remodeling, the possibility of historic tourism and community pride.

Discussions with county officials indicate that these options are not really feasible. Officials have told WWN and it has also been stated in public meetings that the structure has significant termite damage and that water is a continual problem in the existing basement. In addition, there is not sufficient land area owned by the county to add an additional structure. Officials tell WWN that the footprint of the existing annex is the best option for construction, noting that additional stories could not be added to the structure. The only alternative is demolition.

Officials also believe that finding a location away from the existing Courthouse would be impractical and inefficient given the required interaction between offices.

White and Jones indicated that there might be Community Heritage grant funds available if the County chose to rehabilitate the building. Currently the project appears to be in limbo until further review by MDAH.