Meridian Star

October 18, 2013

Ulmer Building on 5th Street may be demolished

Election Commission proposes changes

By Terri Ferguson Smith /
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     County officials may be one step closer to tearing down an old building near the courthouse in Meridian.

    At a work session of the Lauderdale Board of Supervisors on Thursday, Joe McCraney, county administrator, said the Mississippi Department of Archives and History sent a letter recently asking the county to publish a notice to invite comments from the public about the possible demolition of the county-owned Ulmer Building on 5th Street.

    "If they weren't considering it, they wouldn't allow us to run this public notice," McCraney said.

    The Ulmer Building is designated as a Mississippi Landmark property, he said. The building now houses a county maintenance facility and the board had intended to replace the roof, but McCraney said when the roofing company looked at it, officials determined that the building was too far gone.

    "It's going down fast," McCraney said. "We would have been throwing good money after bad."

    District Three Supervisor Josh Todd said it would have cost $100,000 to fix the roof. District One Supervisor Hank Florey said even if they had fixed the roof, the floor is unstable.

    The county has also requested permission from the state to tear down the Ross Building, which is connected to the Ulmer Building, but has not received word to go ahead with a public notice publication.

    The two buildings were included in a study released earlier this year by an architectural firm hired to calculate the needs of five county-owned buildings and the costs of renovating.

    The Ulmer Building was constructed in 1918 and is being used as the County Maintenance Office and Shop. To keep it open, a complete new mechanical system would be required, according to the report. If it were to be used for county offices, an elevator would have to be installed and exterior restoration would be necessary. The total cost of repairs to the Ulmer Building would be $3.4 million, the report said. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

    The Ross Building, built in the 1920s, is currently vacant and "has experienced severe deterioration over the years primarily due to the roof structure being left open and vulnerable to years of water infiltration," according to the report. New mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems would  be required based on the proposed function of the building.

    The letter from state archives officials said its permit committee invites public comment. Those interested may write to Jim Woodrick, director, Historic Preservation Division, Mississippi Department of Archives and History; P.O. Box 571, Jackson; 39206-0571.

    Also on Thursday, supervisors learned that the Lauderdale County Election Commission wants to change some voting precincts.

    In District One, they wish to move Precinct 105 from Trinity Lutheran Church at 4805 Highway 39 North, to Meridian Little Theatre, 4334 Highway 39 North.

    A document from the Election Commission said that the church is too small and the theater has an area more conducive for voting. "The city received a myriad of complaints during their election," the report said.

    "We used to vote at the Jaycee's Building on 39 North, but then it was put up for sale and we were asked to leave," said Jeff Tate, chairman of the election commission. "Then we went right across the parking lot where Trinity Lutheran is located. It wasn't like a disaster or anything, but it was pretty cramped. The voting area was so small that when voters would pile in there, it was borderline compromising the voter's privacy."

    For that same reason, Tate said, the commission is recommending that District Two Precinct 214, located at the county courthouse at 500 Constitution, be moved across the street to the Raymond P. Davis annex building.

    "Due to multiple entrances and exits and several offices, you had a lot of people roaming the lobby who had business to do in the courthouse," Tate said.

    The lobby of the annex building is more spacious and less congested, Tate said, and will provide more privacy for voters. Also the handicap ramp at the courthouse is not compliant with what the federal government says it should be for elections.

    Other  proposed changes are:

    District Four

    Merge Precinct 455, Sageville at 4721 Arundel Road with Precinct 450, at Pickard, located at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, 4390 Valley Road. The Mississippi Secretary of State's office has suggested no precinct be fewer than 500 voters and both precincts are below that number, the report said. The Sageville precinct is in violation of HAVA and ADA requirements for a voting precinct. Furthermore, merging the two precincts will save money.

    District 5

    Merge Precinct 518, Tuxedo; located at 701 B Street and Precinct 519, Willow Ridge; located at 2701 Willow Bend Drive. The new voting location will be at Oak Grove Baptist Church, located at 801 Oak Grove Drive. The report said the old Tuxedo Community Center has a narrow hallway for a voting area and in that small corridor any crowd of people would compromise the voter's privacy. The Willow Ridge parking lot does not have much space and the commission has received numerous complaints abut the location.

    The county will send the changes to the Secretary of State's Office for approval.