McComb officials prepared Tuesday night to take over ownership of the Alpha Center and boost its status as a community center for the Baertown neighborhood.
Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said the McComb school board is scheduled to discuss the property this month and consider whether to transfer the title to the city.
Selectman Shawn Williams, whose Ward 4 includes Baertown, said the Alpha Center’s deed stipulated that if the property was not up to the standards to operate as a library or community center, ownership would revert from the community group that maintained the former Universal School property to the school district.
Paul Singleton, who has overseen the property for some years, told the city board last year that he was the only remaining board member of that community group, and he had problems keeping up the building.
“The building’s not in good condition for use,” Williams said. “When kids use the library and need to go to the bathroom, they have to leave and go to somebody’s house and come back.”
Lockley and Williams said the county board of supervisors had contributed $900 per month to the Alpha Center to assist with maintenance, insurance and utilities, but that was discontinued after the supervisors decided the money was not being spent as it should have been.
The mayor said he and Superintendent Dr. Cederick Ellis had attempted to contact Singleton and been unsuccessful. Similarly, Singleton did not attend a meeting set up by school board attorney Ashley Atkinson intended to include him, Lockley, Williams, Ellis and library system director Darlene Morgan.
Once the city accepts the property, Lockley said county officials had agreed to provide $50,000 to help with renovations on the facility.
“The city does not want to lose the Alpha Center, and we want to keep the library at the center,” he said.
“We have an opportunity build (the center) up and bring the structure back to the community,” Williams said.
Lockley said, in addition to unusable bathrooms, the doors need replacing to better secure the building. He suggested having architect Steve Cox walk through the building to assess other needs.
“Is the building structurally sound?” Selectman Devante Johnson asked.
“That’s why we would have Mr. Cox look at it,” Lockley replied.
Johnson questioned whether the city should agree to take over the building without knowing more about what it would cost to adequately renovate it. Lockley said the city could not spend money on the property, including getting Cox’s assessment, without first taking ownership.
Fire Chief Gary McKenzie interjected that zoning and inspection department employees could inspect the building before the city takes over the property.
“They should be able to identify any major problems,” he said.
Lockley said Atkinson and city board attorney Angela Cockerham have been discussing the matter, and the city should be able to take possession in July and start renovations, with the county’s funding help, in August.
“Is that a gentlemen’s agreement?” Selectman Ronnie Brock asked about the county’s funding offer.
The city and county have been at odds over what the city called a “gentlemen’s agreement” over a joint appointment to the airport board, in which the county has refused to ratify the city’s choice for the seat, and the city claims ratification is not necessary.
Lockley said the funding would be locked in through a formal interlocal agreement.