City may sell armory to school district|[09/13/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Vicksburg Warren School District might yet gain a vacant former Army Reserve armory adjacent to the Vicksburg High School campus, but it likely will come at a cost, school and city officials said Wednesday.

What that cost might be hasn’t been determined and would depend on the results of an appraisal of the two-story brick building at 1000 Lee St. A date for the appraisal has not been determined, said North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield.

A conflict arose last month after the city told the district it planned to retain control of the building, formerly the home of the 386th Transportation Company, after the Army vacated it this summer. Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent James Price said the city’s assertion contradicted a previous agreement the city had made to give the building to the district after the military left. However, Mayor Laurence Leyens disagrees, saying that the deal was never formalized and remained only a suggestion. Leyens proposed that the building be converted into a garage, part of a cost-saving consolidation of city operations in the area. The city has always owned the land, and Leyens said the entire property reverted to the city when the military left. Leyens said Wednesday that there was no update on the status of the building or a potential deal.

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Price, several district trustees and the district’s lawyer, Jim Chaney, met with city leaders last Wednesday to try to work out a deal. For now, the district is waiting for the city to return with a dollar figure, Price said.

“I hope we can work something out,” but “the ball is in their court,” he said. If the offer is reasonable, Price said he would move to purchase the building.

Mayfield said an appraisal is necessary before moving forward because, “We don’t know if the building has been appraised in the last five or 10 years.”

However, said Mayfield, if he had his way, the building would be handed over to the district free and clear. He said trying to sell a building the city didn’t pay for doesn’t make any sense.

“I think it’s unfair to the school system and the children” and “I think it’s unfair to taxpayers as a whole. You’re fighting over your own money. I’m not saying that the city can’t use that building,” But, “we’re on a scale here — we have to weigh everything we do.” And “I just feel that the scale automatically tips in favor of the school. If it was up to me, they would have it today,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, if we gave them the building right now, I don’t see where the city would lose.”

In the meantime, space remains at a premium at Vicksburg High, said Price. The district had planned to move its 160 student JROTC program and into the armory. Lead instructor of the unit Lt. Col. Robert Armstrong has described the building, which has a pistol range, indoor drill area and plenty of storage as a “perfect fit” for the JROTC program.

Moving the JROTC program would free up much-needed space in the main building, said Price. Eleven teachers at Vicksburg High School float from room to room because there are not enough classrooms to go around. That number was reduced from 13 last year by moving the choir into the school’s band hall, freeing up two classrooms.

“I’ve got ceramics classes that are in a biology lab,” said Price. “It’s hard to teach like that.”