Whitworth campus beats odds again

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 2, 2009

Over the years, we have written many times about thestubbornness of the historic Whitworth College campus – now thehome of the Mississippi School of the Arts. We have written abouthow the campus seemed to stand up to whatever was thrown at it,always beating the odds to survive for another day.

Always struggling over its long history, some of the campusbuildings that date back to the late 1800s majestically stoodvacant during the 1980s and 1990s, but slowly decayed with rodentsand cats as their tenants. One could walk through the hallways andsee ashes where over the years vagrants had tried to get out of thecold weather.

A warming fire and heart pine floors usually result incatastrophic fires – they never did. Leaking roofs usually resultin collapse when not repaired – they never did. Who can forget howa local resident’s desire to mail a letter at two in the morningwhen he discovered smoke billowing out of Lampton Auditorium? Afire, the result of a welder’s spark that went undetected, wasminutes from becoming uncontrollable but was able to be contained.What are the odds?

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A few years earlier it was a broken support beam that forcedcity officials to close down parts of Cherokee Street as engineerswarned of the auditorium roof’s impending collapse. The historicbuilding held firm after bracing was installed.

It was that incident that prompted a Brookhaven widow to leaveher estate to fund Lampton’s renovation.

In 1999, it was the overwhelming support of the MississippiLegislature in a 111-8 vote, with concurrence from the Senate and areluctant signature by the late Gov. Kirk Fordice, that theMississippi School of the Arts became a reality. In four shortmonths, HB 706 had been introduced and signed into law – it was alongshot idea that beat the odds.

Since that day five classes have graduated from MSA withstudents in the last two securing some $4 million in collegescholarships – an average of $16,350 per student!

Friday morning, the old Whitworth campus beat the oddsagain!

An unexpected move by two powerful committee chairmen torelocate the arts school to the Mississippi University for Womencampus in Columbus was thwarted by a 30-vote margin on the Housefloor. Legislators from across the state spoke out against theidea.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Appropriations committee members -one vote short of unanimous – had sent the bill to the floor forconsideration. In these tough economic times when massive budgetcuts in order, few gave the Brookhaven campus a chance ofsurvival.

Despite the overwhelming support in 1999, the arts school hashad its opponents and has had to fight and claw its way tosuccess.

Last week’s relocation efforts were more about politicalposturing than budget savings and with little regard for theemotions of the families of the 129 students here in Brookhaven.That’s a shame.

While the campus has again survived for another day, it ispossible efforts will appear again – before the session iscompleted – as MUW supporters try to save their historic campus,but at the cost of ours here in Brookhaven. That, too, is ashame.