The Sun Herald Reports on the Gulfport Library

As posted yesterday on slabbed the library group We the People were very pleased with the Landmark designation decision made by the State Department of Archives and History. There are still many hurdles ahead but yesterday’s news represents a big step. Melissa Scallan reports yesterday’s developments for the Sun Herald in a story that also contains a good account of the major events that lead to the designation:

The Gulfport Library got a reprieve from the wrecking ball on Thursday.

The permit committee for the state Department of Archives and History agreed Wednesday to consider designating the building a Mississippi Landmark because of its architectural significance, the role the building has played in the community and public sentiment.

If the library, built in 1965 in the New Formalism style of architecture, is made a landmark, it can’t be torn down without permission from the department’s board.

“The building is an example of a style of architecture not widely found in the city of Gulfport, the surrounding community or even in the state of Mississippi,” said Bill Gatlin, architectural historian for Archives and History. “It’s an iconic building for the people who grew up in Gulfport.”

But several Harrison County supervisors said Thursday they will not use public money to repair or insure that building, no matter what its designation. Even if the library is made a landmark, the county isn’t obligated to repair the building.

“The board doesn’t have a burning desire to tear down that building,” Supervisor Kim Savant said. Savant represents District 2, which includes the library. “But what we have said is that we will not put taxpayer dollars into the building.”

The permit committee will send a formal letter to the Board of Supervisors concerning its decision and also will advertise a 30-day public comment period. If the supervisors object to the library being designated as a landmark, the decision will be made by the Board of Trustees for Archives and History, likely at its October meeting.

If supervisors don’t object, the permit committee will vote on the issue at its August meeting.

Even though supervisors haven’t discussed Thursday’s decision, some said they believe the board will object.

“We’re not going to build a library there, so I suspect we will write a letter of objection and see what happens,” Supervisor Marlin Ladner said.

William Martin, board president, agreed.

“I won’t vote to put funds into a building we can’t insure,” he said.

The board’s next meeting is June 30.

The library was heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina, but the structure remained standing. The county owned the building, and the city owned the property. Earlier this year, the city deeded the land to the county so it could get FEMA funding for the library.

The city’s stipulation was that the county demolish the building, and supervisors agreed. However, officials with Archives and History must approve changes to any public building, including demolition.

County leaders decided to relocate the main library branch in Orange Grove and build a branch library in downtown Gulfport. FEMA agreed to fund both libraries but only if a public building wasn’t put on the original library property.

If the library were built on the original property, the county would not get relocation funds.

But a group of citizens known as We the People have been fighting to save the library for months, appealing to the City Council and the supervisors, gathering signatures for petitions and garnering support throughout the community.

Several members traveled to Jackson for Thursday’s meeting.

Henry Laird, an attorney representing the group, said members plan to talk to supervisors about their plans for the building.

“This is very significant,” he said. “We’re going to ask Harrison County and the city of Gulfport to accept what Archives and History has decided about the library and see if we can work together.”
 

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