County leaders have abandoned their plans to demolish Banner Schoolhouse.
After a failed attempt to sell the abandoned school with the intent of having it demolished to make way for a new fire station for the Banner-Bounds Fire Department, Itawamba County supervisors have decided to allow the aging building to remain standing.
Even with the change in plans, supervisors say the Banner-Bounds Fire Department will still receive its new fire station, although the plans for its construction have been altered as well. County leaders initially claimed the schoolhouse prevented crucial renovations to the community’s current fire station, which stands adjacent to the schoolhouse. Due to the slope of the land, rainwater flows beneath the schoolhouse and into the fire station, which also serves as the community’s voting precinct. During heavy rain, the station will fill with standing water.
The original plan was to build a new fire station once the schoolhouse had been removed from the property. Because the building will remain where it is, supervisors have elected to build a new fire station elsewhere on the property.
“We’re going to move the whole fire department,” Horn said. “There’s plenty of land back there.”
According to Horn, after the county failed to receive any bids on the demolition of the former school building, supervisors decided to just let it be.
“It’ll be cheaper to leave the schoolhouse standing and build away from it,” Horn told The Times. The current fire station will remain on the grounds, he said.
Horn said there isn’t a current time frame to complete the project, although he said he’d like to get started as quickly as possible.
The county will fund construction of the new fire station by using $25,900 in TVA IN-Lieu funds, set aside for economic development. The board requested the Mississippi Development Authority permit the use of the funds to build the fire station in mid-February. The MDA voted to approve the usage during their March 19 meeting.
Plenty of members of the Banner Community will no doubt be happy with the board’s decision to leave the former schoolhouse standing. It also allows the county board to dodge a good deal of paperwork with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which notified the board via letter last month that state law prohibits the demolition of publicly-owned structures with potential historic significance. According to the letter, buildings the age of Banner Schoolhouse “fall under the purview of the Antiquities Law of Mississippi … which requires the public property owner to submit all projects involving potentially historic buildings to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for review and approval.”
The letter goes on to state that the demolition or alteration of such buildings must be authorized by the MDAH board of trustees. Included with the letter was a notice of intent, should supervisors have chosen to proceed with plans to raze the building.
The Itawamba County School District deeded the building that served as Banner’s schoolhouse and, after its shuttering in the 1950s, community center to the county’s board of supervisors in late February.
In March, despite numerous requests, supervisors decided against allowing members of the public to take mementos from the schoolhouse before its destruction. That same month, they voted to advertise for sealed bids on the purchase of the building and its contents with the expectation that whomever won the bid would have a month to demolish and remove whatever elements of the building they wanted from the site.
County leaders said they sympathized with members of the Banner Community who wanted souvenirs from the former school but said entering the decaying building was a liability.
At the time, Horn said he didn’t expect to receive much interest in purchasing the building.
“People I’ve asked about tearing it down don’t want to fool with it,” Horn told the board in March.
The board decided advertising for bids was the best way to find someone interesting in demolishing the building for wood or other elements.