Blue Mountain College, MSU team to revamp off-campus building

Published 4:42 pm Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Blue Mountain College has teamed with Mississippi State University to restore an off-campus building to the school’s use within a framework of historic preservation.

“We want to set an example for restoration of a historical building in the community,” said Blue Mountain President Bettye Coward. “We’ll go through our strategic planning process for use of buildings, then make a recommendation to the board of trustees.”

The presentation to the board will likely be made in January, Coward said.

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Designs have been developed by MSU’s Carl Small Town Center.

“The idea behind our proposal was to help Blue Mountain College better engage with the town of Blue Mountain and reach out into the community,” said Cari Varner of the Carl Center team.

The tiny school, nestled in the Pontotoc Ridge and flatwoods of northeast Mississippi, was founded in 1873 by the Mississippi Baptist Convention. The school’s focus was the education of women and it offered a Christian liberal arts curriculum. Men were allowed on campus as full-time students in the spring of 2006.

Coward said the restoration project will make heavy use of volunteers.

“Just about every renovation project done on campus involved use of volunteers. We have three groups that have offered themselves to us for future projects, so we need to see how we can fit that into this project,” Coward said.

The design plan proposes renovating the two-story early 20th Century building, converting the space into three separate units on the first level — a cafe-coffee shop, a new campus store and a combined Internet cafe-print shop.

The second floor could be subdivided for student housing and for a small community meeting space.

“We’re encouraging college leaders to create an overall lifestyle center with amenities that would be beneficial to both community and college,” Varner said.

Blue Mountain Mayor Edward Burge said the building was originally the Bank of Blue Mountain and it became First National Bank.

Burge said several businesses were linked to the building, either with bank connections or with business offices there.

Burge said the building was severely damaged by fire in the mid-1980s and was repaired.

Coward said the college acquired the first two sections of the building several years ago. Within the past 18 months or so they were able to acquire the third section when the Masonic lodge which occupied it built a new facility.

“Renovation of this building would completely change the look of that community,” Coward said. “The block would take on a whole new look if we do our part.”