Children’s home lease request rejected in Miss.

Published 1:17 am Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Louisiana-based children’s home operator wants to move to southern Mississippi even after his proposal to lease land set aside in the state for public education use was rejected by a local school board.

Wendell Davis operates the Berean Children’s Home for abandoned and abused children in Albany, La.

Davis wants to move the home with 23 children closer to its primary support base at Mt. Olive Church of Christ in Brookhaven. The church helped found the home in 1979.

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Davis had asked the Lincoln County school board to approve a lease on 10 acres in an area about 60 miles south of Jackson. Davis said he planned to build dormitories, a gymnasium and other facilities on the leased land.

Lincoln County schools superintendent Terry Brister said the plan was rejected last week because there were too many unknowns associated with granting such a lease, which would have been the first of its kind for the district.

“We have never had anything to that capacity, and we didn’t know what we would have to deal with in the future,” he said. “The more simple we keep the leases and not venture out, the better off we are.”

Brister said the majority of the board’s leases on 16th Section lands have been for residential, agricultural, hunting and limited commercial uses.

The school board also was concerned about the legal questions that could arise from such construction, particularly the ownership of the buildings and if the home decided to relocate in the future.

“The attractive part of this was that the home serves kids, but the unattractive thing was the unknown of taking on that type of venture,” Brister said.

In Mississippi, the 16th Section of each 36-square-mile township belongs to the schools and must be used for the benefit of public education. The program was established in the 19th century as school trust land, with rents to be paid in support of the local schools. The leaseholders may own the buildings or houses but not the land they are on. They can lease the property and must pay property taxes.

Davis said he is considering options.

“We were looking for some permanent land anyway, so we’ll just keep looking,” Davis said. “Right now, it’s more of a feasibility study to see if we can do something. If we can, we’d certainly like to.”

Davis said selling land where the home is located in Louisiana would be necessary before he could move to Mississippi.

“We think we could do a better job of supervising and running the home from up here,” he said of Lincoln County. “We’ll have to get our heads together and decide what we’re going to do.”