West Point eyes Mary Holmes College buildings as emergency shelter

Published 4:30 pm Friday, July 20, 2007

The cluster of buildings that once was Mary Holmes College could be used as a permanent emergency shelter if the city of West Point gets the financial help it needs to refurbish them.

The 112-year-old junior college closed its doors in 2003. It was located on 190 acres in West Point, and at one time was the only privately owned two-year college for blacks in the country.

Mary Holmes was founded in 1892 for black women and was initially located in Jackson. The college suffered from declining enrollment and increasing debt.

It was used for a temporary shelter in 2005 for people fleeing Hurricane Katrina.

The city of West Point will apply for a grant to refurbish the gymnasium and maybe other buildings.

“What we’re intending to do is ask for a onetime grant — it’s not a 100 percent grant; it’s 80 or 75 percent from Mississippi Emergency Management Agency — and what it would allow us to do is use the gymnasium facility and adjacent property if necessary, and refurbish it for a longtime shelter facility,” City Clerk Randy Jones said.

“Any time that there came a need for an evacuation anywhere, whether it be hurricane- or tornado-related, we could open that facility and house quite a few residents for quite a while,” Jones said.

Jones said it will then be the city’s responsibility to maintain the facility.

Earlier this year, the Mississippi and West Tennessee District Council purchased the property and announced plans to develop the campus into a technical college. Financial issues caused the organization to return the property to Presbyterian Church USA, the college’s original owner.

“What we’ll have to do is either get into an agreement with Presbyterian Church USA or either a minimum of 50-year lease, or actually purchase the property or them donate it to the city or the county,” Jones said.

Until that occurs, the city cannot go through with the full grant application, Jones said. However, the city has begun the pre-application process to establish whether the property is a candidate for the grant.