April 12, 2019 10:44:41 AM
What qualifies as historic is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
That's the case with the old Lee High School property on the corner of 18th Avenue and Military Road.
By conventional standards, there seems little to qualify the building as a historic place. It's not particularly old -- built in 1953 -- nor does it stand apart for its architecture. It was built for a specific function and you will find no artistic flourishes that distinguish the property. And what of historical context? That it was the site of the last all-white high school seems hardly a thing to be revered.
Nevertheless, the Mississippi Department of History and Archives granted historic status to the old school and, later, Hunt High School, the city's last all-black school.
That designation was heavily influenced by practical considerations. The tax benefits of that designation helped smooth the way for the property to be sold after it had languished on the market since the school was closed in 2011.
Purists may scoff at the idea that the property is, indeed, historic, but it's difficult to make any solid argument that its renovation will not produce a real benefit for our community.
There are few sights as depressing as an abandoned school in the steady state of deterioration, which is what the Lee property had become. It was a burden on the school district, a blight on the landscape and produced no benefit to the community.
That will soon change.
New owner Scott Berry is re-purposing the old school facilities into a 23-unit apartment complex and event center, generating tax revenue for the city and complementing the development we've already seen along 18th Avenue.
What had been an unquestioned eyesore has the potential to be a successful private enterprise.
Berry intends to keep a few of the features of the old school, a nod to its history and the still-warm memories of those who once attended the school. To those former students, the Lee property has historic part of their lives.
We wish Berry well in his efforts. His success in this project will be the city's success as well.
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