Despite damage, historical value of Moody Hall may be preserved

Published 11:40 pm Saturday, December 23, 2006

When Pearl River Community College students return to class next year, an 80-year-old landmark will be gone.

Crews demolished the hurricane-ravaged Moody Hall auditorium while PRCC is closed for the Christmas holiday break.

Hurricane Katrina blew the roof off the auditorium on Aug. 29, 2005, ending a long tradition of plays, concerts and assemblies.

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Built in 1926, Moody Hall also housed offices and classrooms for the Department of Fine Arts and Communications and is the oldest classroom building in use at any of Mississippi’s 15 community colleges. The office-classroom part of the building can be salvaged, PRCC officials said.

Workers with Holliday Construction of Poplarville have already spent a couple weeks carefully removing brick from the exterior.

“We’ve got to save 17,500 bricks to redo the back wall,” said Daniel High, job foreman. “That’s so we can keep the historical value.”

The bricks, some of them dated 1922, cover cinder blocks which High thinks are part of the original construction.

“I ain’t never seen anything like it,” he said. “The bricks are holding the building up.”

The bricks on both sides of the auditorium date from the original construction but those on the north or backstage wall are newer, he said. The auditorium was converted in 1940 from a combination gymnasium-auditorium. PRCC president Dr. William Lewis said the plan is to use the bricks to keep the historical value of the building.

Worker Bruce Simon said he has found bricks with several different markings — including some reading Chicago and one from a Laurel, Miss. company.

After the bricks are removed, the demolition company will bring in a track hoe to demolish the building, High said.

“We’re going to try to tear it down while all the students are gone,” he said.

The hurricane damage forced the Fine Arts and Communications faculty and staff from their offices into trailers provided by the Corps of Engineers. Band and choral performances are in Olivia Bender Cafeteria or Malone Chapel.

Katrina also inflicted such heavy damage on M.R. White Coliseum that it has also been demolished.

Plans for construction of a performing arts center, in the works before the hurricane, and for a new coliseum remain on hold pending settlement of PRCC’s insurance claims.

“The fact that the coliseum was destroyed has changed our thinking somewhat, and we’re seeking additional funding,” said Dr. John Grant, PRCC vice president.

Rebuilding the historic facility is pending an insurance settlement but $600,000 that was given to the college from the legislature for renovation is committed to the rebuilding of Moody Hall, Lewis said.

When the section of the building is rebuilt Lewis said the plan is to use the rear entrance as the new front entrance with a court yard for a student gathering area. Also in the plans is the installation of an elevator in the building, Lewis said.