City handing over deed to armory to schools|[05/07/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The deed to the former Army Reserve building on Lee Street will go to public schools with no strings attached, Mayor Laurence Leyens said Tuesday.

“I told him they could have it,” Leyens said of the decision after talking with Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Dr. James Price.

Leyens had wanted to alter the flow of traffic through the City Park area as part of the deal he saw as a way to enlarge and improve the Vicksburg High School campus. “I can’t make them do anything,” Leyens said. “I was hoping to use the building as a lever to get them to reinvest in the area.”

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The city was deeded the building at 1000 Lee St., formerly the home of the U.S. Army’s 386th Transportation Company, last month.

Leyens said he showed Price drawings that included diverting off Drummond and Lee streets to a new, improved road that would run north of Memorial Stadium. Leyens’ idea was to close off the area to provide a safer environment for students while unifying and enlarging the high school campus, he said.

“The aesthetics reflect the culture and students’ behavior, which hugely impact economic development in this town,” he said.

Price, who took his first tour of the building Friday, said plans will be drawn up to incorporate the armory with the hilltop high school, presumably before the next school year.

“We’ll have an opportunity to terrace and change the look of the area,” he said. “I’m just going to have to sit out there on the hill and get some ideas. It will all come together.”

The district will likely use the building to house the 160-student JROTC program, as well as other uses that will be determined once the deal is final. As part of the deal, VWSD will deed to the city land it owns along Army Navy Drive, currently used for city employee parking. In turn, the city will hand over its portion of land where the city pool once was.

“We’re just essentially clearing up property rolls,” Price said.

The no-strings-attached transfer goes back to the first plan after federal authorities offered the brick structure to the city. Leyens said he would turn it over to the public schools, but later suggested its large parking bay would make an excellent maintenance facility for larger city equipment, such as fire trucks. That touched off some protest and Leyens recanted, offering the building to the schools with stipulations. Alluding to Price’s announcement in early 2007 that he would like to explore ways of eventually merging VHS and Warren Central High School as a means of cutting down on voluntary segregation, Leyens indicated having a self-contained campus could help that effort. Price, however, has said any merger will take time and consideration.

Many city shops and repair and storage facilities have been consolidated into the south portion of Army Navy Drive, and Leyens said he would like to continue that as a cost-savings measure.