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New plans for old schoolinclude Wesson’s library

WESSON — A state library grant program could provide the neededboost to efforts to get the historic Old Wesson School restored andin use again, project supporters say.

With growing needs and limited space, Longie Dale HamiltonMemorial Library and town officials are considering relocating thelibrary to the Old Wesson School, which was built in 1893.

Director Paul Cartwright said the library has begun efforts toseek a $300,000 grant from a state program created last year by thelegislature. The first step is a $5,000 appraisal on the schoolbuilding, which has suffered from years of neglect andvandalism.

“We’re still in the process of getting the appraisal,”Cartwright said, adding that he hopes a combination of public andprivate funds will cover the costs.

The state grant requires a match from the town. However,depending on the appraisal, Cartwright believes the value of thebuilding and surrounding trees could offset the matching fundrequirement, so no money from the town would be needed.

“It’d be a complete in-kind match toward the project,”Cartwright said.

The grant application is due by February 2001.

Cartwright said the restoration would be a multi-phase projectof at least three phases. He estimated total project costs at”easily a million.”

Lura Greer, Wesson mayor pro tem, and Marie Watts, of the WessonHistorical Society, have been working to drum up support forrestoring the school. Their idea to have senior citizens apartmentsin the old school is being incorporated into the library plans.

The basement of the 24,000-square foot building would housemeeting rooms and a community center.

The first floor would be for the library and the second floorwould be for residential apartments. Watts estimated there could beeight to 10 rooms for use.

The state Department of Archives and History must approve anyplans regarding the school. Cartwright expected there would beminimal change on the interior.

“There won’t be any interior changes except for an elevator,”Cartwright said while also mentioning a staircase that would haveto be replaced.

Cartwright said the building’s bell towers and roof are the mostendangered parts of the buildings. Also, many lower floor windowshave been broken.

Because of its condition, Cartwright said he plans to nominatethe building for inclusion on the state’s 10 Most Endangered Siteslist.

To assist with funding, a capital fund-raising campaign has beenstarted. Contributions may be sent to Paul Cartwright,Copiah-Jefferson Regional Library, 223 South Extension St.Hazlehurst, MS 39083.

Cartwright said the facility will also qualify for MississippiLandmark Grant funds in 2003. That program is funded from intereston unclaimed monies held by the state treasurer.

Project supporters say they are just beginning, but they areoptimistic the school restoration efforts will be successful.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but it’s worth itI think,” Cartwright said.