Mississippi: Construction of
U.S. Courthouse, Gulfport
Agency: General Services Administration
Criterion for Council Involvement:
- This project has presented procedural problems due to public controversy and the withdrawal of the Mississippi State Historic Preservation Officer from the consultation process (Criterion 3).
After considering alternatives that would have resulted in demolition of the Gulfport High School, the General Services Administration (GSA) unveiled in April a new design for the proposed Gulfport Federal Courthouse which will retain and reuse the historic school. The new courthouse will be constructed adjacent to the historic school but, importantly, not immediately abutting the building.
Former Gulfport High School,
The school will be reused as office space for the US Attorney and Probation Services. The exterior of the building will be restored and non-historic doors and windows will be replaced with reproductions of the originals. Because of structural and space utilization problems, the interior will be gutted and office spaces created that mimic the arrangement of classrooms and offices in the building.
GSA identified the need for a new Federal courthouse in Gulfport, Mississippi and chose the location of Gulfport High School as the preferred site. Designed by a noted Mississippi architect in 1923, the Tudor- and Collegiate-Gothic-style building is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
GSA’s Atlanta office studied a variety of alternatives for the project, including total or partial demolition of the school, retention of the school with adjacent new construction, and construction on an alternative parcel that is the site of the Gulfport/Harrison County Public Library. Interestingly, the proposed demolition of the high school created little public outcry in comparison to the considerable protests lodged when it became known that the library site was under consideration.
While displaying little architectural merit, the library is a very popular facility, and GSA’s plan for moving the library to a larger site garnered no support. The Chamber of Commerce, adjacent property owners, and a “friends” group supporting the library offered varying but significant opposition to the project alternatives under consideration.
Complicating matters further was the decision of the Mississippi State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) to withdraw from consultation. The SHPO was under pressure to accept the school’s demolition. Despite a willingness to compromise, the SHPO was unable to convince local interests that GSA still needed to consider alternatives which would preserve the school building.
Citing its difficulty in meeting its obligations in a public forum without risking damage to its statewide program, the SHPO withdrew from consultation. Since this occurrence, the Council has continued to explore design alternatives with GSA.
This case highlights the ongoing challenges posed by review of Federal courthouse construction projects under Section 106. The circumstances in this case and the divided local community have required that the Council serve an important intermediary function.
Staff contact: Ralston Cox
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