Florida retiree considering buying old Carr Central

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2003

[06/20/03] Rusted lockers still litter the halls at the former Carr Central Junior High on Cherry Street although students haven’t used the school for more than 20 years.

Down the hall, weeds grow next to broken windows in classrooms where Vicksburg’s youths once were educated. On the second floor, wooden theater seats sit in front of an idle stage in the auditorium covered by years of dust and fallen lights.

Debris of every kind clutters stairways and entrances, but Frank McGinley of Pensacola, Fla., says he has a vision of what the 79-year-old building could be again.

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“Most places they’re just bulldozing places like this, but I think about all the coal used to bake these bricks and all the labor used to build this place,” McGinley said. “I’m not like most people. I can see past all the debris.”

McGinley, who said he began looking at restoring historic properties after retiring from the U.S. Army, contacted city officials after learning about the property from a friend in Vicksburg. He toured the building Thursday along with Victor Gray-Lewis, building inspection department administrator, and said he is interested in acquiring the property and cleaning it up.

“It’s just sitting here, an eyesore,” Gray-Lewis said. “The city would love nothing more than to get rid of it and to make something productive out of it.”

The building, which once belonged to the City of Vicksburg, was sold five years ago to local businessman Robert Rosenthal, who said he planned to convert the structure into elderly housing. Rosenthal has applied for tax credits through the Mississippi Home Corporation every year since, but has been turned down for funding, and no work has been done.

Under terms of the deal with the city, Rosenthal paid $105,000 for the school, but the city could buy it back for $45,000 if nothing was done in a year. City officials have been reluctant to take back the property because of the amount of work that is needed and because of the amount of asbestos in the structure.

McGinley said that the cost of the asbestos removal was also a concern to him, but that he would like to see Carr, declared a state landmark, brought back to life.

“It’s a daunting project, but it could be a beautiful building again,” McGinley said.

Last week, the city’s inspection department issued Rosenthal a citation for the overgrown lot. The next step if he does not cut the lot will be to take Rosenthal to Vicksburg Community Court, where he could face a fine up to $1,000.

Gray-Lewis said the city may also issue citations for the broken windows and other problems with the property.

Another property city officials are looking at is the vacant Kuhn Memorial Hospital on Martin Luther King Drive, which has been empty since the state hospital closed in 1989. The building has changed hands many times since, and several plans have been announced, but none has come to fruition.

The inspection department last month condemned the property, declaring it unfit for occupancy and ordered repairs.

Gray-Lewis said the owners, the Lassiter-Studdard Group Inc., were given 30 days to clean up the property and board up the building or face possible court action.