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Old school may be Mississippi Landmark

Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent James Price and Morris Keith, maintenance supervisor, above, tour the former Culkin Elementary Wednesday. (Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[1/8/04]The building that housed Culkin Academy for 60 years and until recently served as a worm farm is under consideration to become a Mississippi Landmark.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is considering granting the building, owned by the Vicksburg Warren School District, the historic designation.

The building was built between 1939 and 1942 with an annex added in 1956, and according to Archives’ historic preservation division is “noteworthy as an example of a rural school erected with federal public works funding during the Depression era.” The report went on to say that the building is an “intact example of the Art Deco style as used for public schools in the late 1930s and early 1940s.”

For generations, the building at the intersection of Culkin and Mount Alban roads, was a center of community life.

“Culkin is one of the best examples in the state of Art Deco design,” from that time period, said Richard Cawthon, chief architect historian with the state Department of Archives and History. He noted that the building’s concrete structure and use of “clean” lines are characteristic of the category.

Staff at the department came across the school during a survey of older schools across the state.

The designation is the state’s highest form of recognition and can be based on history, design or both.

What some see as a drawback for the old school, which the Vicksburg Warren district has been unable to sell, is that once declared a landmark, changes must be approved by the state, said Tom Waggener, review and compliance officer with the department.

Culkin would be one of 28 sites in Vicksburg to be a state landmark. Bowmar Avenue Elementary School is the only other facility in the 14-school combined city and county district that holds the designation. The former Carr Central High School on Cherry Street is a Mississippi Landmark, but is privately owned.

Cawthon said the permit committee could render a decision on the Culkin facility by the end of the month.

And should the building receive the designation, Superintendent James Price said he would ask the board of trustees to consider renovating the building for commercial space.

Though some classrooms and the auditorium still contain plywood beds filled with dirt remnants of commercial worm farming the care and pride faculty took in the school is evident. Murals depicting a jungle, a pastel-colored collage and the alphabet and numbers remain on the walls. Grammar lessons written on a chalkboard are still readable. A supply closet remains full of old textbooks.

“We can’t leave this building here as a blight on the community,” Price said. “We’ve got to do the right thing.”

Price also has tenuous permission on a 3-2 board vote to move ahead with a study of community schools. Culkin and four other elementaries were closed in 1999 when the district opened two mega schools for north and south attendance zones.

Although bids were sought to sell the structure, none was received that the school board accepted. Culkin remained empty until September 2002, when F and M Enterprises leased the building to operate a worm farm in the campus’ main building. F and M’s main distributor declared bankruptcy, forcing the company to halt operations and move out of the school building, said one of the company’s owners, Bob Ford.

Among other closed schools, Halls Ferry was sold for $426,000 and torn down as part of The Home Depot development on South Frontage Road. Bovina houses the Center for Alternative Programs, Grove Street houses the Youth Court Assistance Center, and Cedars is a Head Start center.