Claiborne official has high hopes for rec center’s revival|[03/03/07]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2007

PORT GIBSON – The 17-year director of the Claiborne County Parks and Recreation Department believes a community center built the 1930s will be replaced.

&#8220We couldn’t salvage anything,” Michelle Burrell said. &#8220This building has been a landmark so many years. We’re very optimistic about rebuilding at this point.”

Exactly when the rebuilding effort will begin is in question.

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&#8220We’re still doing inventory,” Burrell said. All that’s left is a pile of debris at the county fairgrounds. &#8220It’s going to take a while for that to happen,” she said. &#8220But we’re hoping to have some preliminary plans in the next few weeks.”

Burrell said she could not give a cost estimate of the damage.

On Feb. 17, a fire possibly caused by a gas leak in a heating unit damaged a portion of a baseball stadium used by Port Gibson High School and the adjoining recreational center at the fairgrounds on U.S. 61 just north of the city.

No one was injured.

&#8220A baby shower was going on that afternoon,” Burrell said. &#8220They saw the smoke and were able to get out of the building.”

The recreation center, called the grandstand, housed offices and equipment and was the home for several community events, Burrell said.

&#8220It was one of a kind,” she said. &#8220We do a youth summer camp, Easter egg hunt and rodeo. Since it was an agricultural facility for so many years, we still tie into 4-H programs.”

Burrell said research shows the grandstand was built with pine lumber. In those days, the building served a mostly agricultural purpose.

&#8220We’re going to be asking for citizen input and a collection of stories and pictures of this building’s history,” Burrell said. &#8220We think that will be important to any future construction.”

Rebuilding could include a replica of the structure or a new one, Burrell said.

&#8220The site is so well-used by the community. We plan to come out of this better and stronger. It’s definitely tragic.”

The 13-acre fairgrounds includes several other buildings that were spared by the fire. But the blaze did destroy power lines and melted portions of the baseball field’s backstop.

&#8220The wind was blowing away from the other buildings,” Burrell said.

The parks and recreation department is operated by the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors.