City awards Jackson Street Center contract

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 26, 2000

After years of false starts and budget compromises, Vicksburg officials awarded a $1.6 million contract Monday to build a youth center on Jackson Street.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young.

After the meeting, South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb, a critic of the project, repeated his objections, but admitted that the fight was basically over.

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“Once the decision is made, we need to come together and see how we can make this a benefit for our community,” Habeeb said.

The contract was awarded to Flagstar Construction Co. of Ridgeland for $1,586,000. Architects Cook, Douglas, Lemon & Farre said it would take Flagstar about a month to mobilize and start work on the project.

The site, across Monroe Street from Vicksburg Auditorium, is where the Jackson Street YMCA stood for more than 60 years. Funded by the same philanthropist who gave money for what is now the Downtown YMCA Fitness Center, the Jackson Street Y served blacks during segregation.

It was often the only place in town offering overnight rooms to black travelers and provided a venue for minorities to meet, present plays, swim and engage in other social activities.

The actual Y building was donated to the city seven years ago but it collapsed, and the site was cleared three years ago.

The new youth center will be a more elaborate version of the Kings Community Center in the former Kings school on North Washington Street. Like that center, it will include a basketball court and two classrooms, and it will be used to expand the juvenile justice and alternative school programs already going on in Kings.

But the new center will be bigger and more ambitious. Built from the ground up, the red brick building’s indoor basketball court will be large enough to accommodate regulation high school tournaments. It will also feature two tennis courts.

Mayor Robert Walker took the opportunity of the 2-0 vote on the contract to denounce what he termed racial divisiveness that has surrounded plans for the center.

“This facility can be something that brings the community together,” Walker said. “The time has come for the people in Vicksburg to move to the next level and not be bogged down by the traditional perceptions that have kept us down for so long.”

He added that grand juries have repeatedly suggested more youth programs in Vicksburg and the tennis and basketball courts will help diversify the recreation department’s sports offerings, now limited mostly to baseball.

Habeeb, who has consistently voted against the center, was not at Monday’s meeting, having been called for jury duty.

But he said he knew the contract would be on the agenda, and did not ask that it be delayed until he could be present.

“I think I’ve had my full say on it several times,” Habeeb said. “But if it’s for the whole city, why not place it in a more central location?”

Others have also pointed out the center is not in a residential area, duplicates many existing school and private programs and that existing publicly owned properties, including Grove Street school, or the former St. Francis school complex could house most programs.

Young’s response was that youths should not have to accept leftovers and are entitled to new facilities.

Habeeb added that the youth center will probably have a six-figure operations budget that will be an added built-in to budgets in future years. The Kings center’s budget is $220,000 per year.

“Other cities are doing similar things, but this is a want,” Habeeb said. “It’s not a need.”

Construction was originally budgeted for $1.2 million, but when the first bids were received in 1998, the lowest was more than a million dollars more.

Compromises were made with the design, such as scaling back the college regulation basketball court in the original plans.