By Terri Ferguson Smith
It may come as a surprise to many Meridian residents that a building the city has considered tearing down for a parking lot is regarded by some as a significant piece of architecture.
With a leaking roof and unreliable air conditioning, no one can blame staff and officers with the Meridian Police Department for being glad to get out of their former building on Sixth Street across from City Hall. The MPD moved into its newly renovated larger building on 22nd Avenue in May, but the building they left behind is said to be significant because its architect, the late Chris Risher Sr., is noted for bringing Modernist style to his hometown of Meridian.
The Mississippi Heritage Trust recently named the former MPD building on its 2013 list of 10 most endangered places in Mississippi.
Part of the back of the building was already standing when Risher designed the new MPD building. A former dry cleaning business, the old was incorporated with the new and it opened in 1977.
In June, city officials mentioned the possibility of tearing down the building for a parking lot, but no specific plans have yet been made to do so. That drew the attention of preservationists who would like to see the building saved.
John McClure, director of Community Development for the city of Meridian, said he has had several phone calls from architects from around the state who voiced concerns about the future of the property.
"Personally, I would love for us to find an appropriate, adaptive reuse and be able to preserve it and put it into functional use," McClure said.
On the other hand, McClure said, saving the building would be costly. Outside funding sources would have to be identified, he said.
"All that's up in the air at this juncture," McClure said. "The city does not have unlimited resources. We have plenty of worthy things we would like to do and need to be doing. It's a balancing act between limited resources and unlimited demand. I'm guardedly optimistic that we can come up with something that will work."
McClure knew Risher, who also designed and renovated other buildings in Meridian.
"He was a dear friend," McClure said. "He was one of the most talented designers I had ever been around. When he would come up with an idea on something, he would do the most amazing watercolor renderings."
His fellow architects admired his work as well. John Porus, an assistant professor of architecture at Mississippi State University, is among those who nominated the MPD building for the most endangered list.
"What makes this particular building significant is that it won an Honor Citation for design from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1977 and it is the work of Chris Risher Sr., a Meridian architect who was a pioneer in adopting the Modernist architectural style/method in Mississippi," Porus said.
Other buildings by Risher include the Vise Clinic on 22nd Avenue and 4th Street; the Crestwood School, the Medical Arts Surgical Group building, the demolished Red Hot Diner, and the Masonic Children's Home (Hope Village), Porus said.
"These buildings, along with the police department building, constitute an important record of how Modern architecture was brought to the South and how Modernism was adapted to the climate and culture of the South," Porus said.
Dr. George Thomas, Ward 1 councilman and council president, said earlier this year the city would consider tearing it down. On Monday he said the city still has no present use or plans for the building.
"If there were a use for the building, if some private developer wanted to purchase it and put something in there, we would be willing to listen to them," Thomas said. "We just have no use for it."