City clearing debris from 1990 fire at former Carr Central

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2002

Bell Construction worker Jackie Moore, left, watches as Jimmy Bell piles rubble from the gym behind old Carr Central High School on Cherry Street Wednesday. (The VIcksburg Post)

[08/08/02]Workers contracted by the City of Vicksburg are clearing out debris left by an arson fire 12 years ago at the former Carr Central Junior High School gymnasium.

Victor Gray-Lewis, head of the Building Inspection Department, said the work is being done through an agreement with the building’s owner, Robert Rosenthal, who purchased the property from the city in 1999. According to the deal, Rosenthal will pay the $10,000 cost of removing the burned out gym. If he doesn’t, the cost will remain as a lien against the six-acre tract’s deed.

Gray-Lewis also said the city is going to seek quotes to board up the brick and concrete structure on Cherry Street that served as a high school, junior high and middle school during a period of nearly 60 years.

“We’ll send him a bill and he’ll pay the cost,” Gray-Lewis said.

Bell Construction has spent the past three days using a loader to pick up and remove blocks of crumbled concrete scattered around the grounds from a 1990 arson fire that destroyed the school gym after it had been vacated by the city’s public school system, said Jimmy Bell, owner of Bell Construction. Bell expects the job to take about two weeks.

The city has been asking Rosenthal to clear out the debris because it is an eyesore and poses health hazards due to the building’s asbestos.

“We’re excited to see that we’re moving forward with Carr Central,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens. “And the Battlefield Mall is next.”

Rosenthal purchased the building four years ago with announced plans to renovate it into an assisted-living facility for the elderly. Since then, he has been denied tax credits from the Mississippi Home Corp., an organization that provides help to developers building low-income housing and there has been no visible progress at the site.

Under terms of the contract with the city, Rosenthal was required to have financing and tax credits in place and asbestos removal started or the city can exercise its option to repurchase the school building for $45,000.

Rosenthal said in March that he planned to go ahead with the renovation using $6 million in private funds, but has done little since then, forcing the city into action cleaning up the site.

The Carr building, named for early Vicksburg professor J.P. Carr, opened in 1924. When it was abandoned more than 20 years ago, it was discovered that the city, not the school district, held the deed to the building and land.

In 1994, the building was slated for demolition, but got a reprieve when declared a protected state historical property.

The Battlefield Mall property on North Frontage Road was also slated for demolition after the Vicksburg Board of Adjustments and Appeals turned down a request by J&V Properties for an additional 90 days to sell the vacant property. Attorneys for the owners of the property are appealing the decision to the city board.