Gulfport superintendent shares innovative idea to develop old school site

East Ward Elementary School after Hurricane Katrina
East Ward Elementary School after Hurricane Katrina

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A walk across the former East Ward Elementary School property is a walk down memory lane for Gulfport School Superintendent Glen East.

"You just walked through the principal's office, which probably as a 4th grader, I spent some time in," East joked. "That's the flagpole from the original school and we didn't take it down."

That rusty flagpole and some broken bricks are the only remnants of the campus on Thorton Avenue. It was where East once attended school.

"A lot of history here," East said.

The 86-year-old structure was demolished in 2007, after being heavily damaged by Katrina.   Now, as superintendent, East has a vision for the three-acre property.

"The property could go anywhere from a house to a condominium, and we're definitely trying to stay away from the condominium and hotel side of it, because that's commercial. So we're really trying to look in the neighborhood of what would fit into the 2nd Street neighborhood," said East.

The site is also considered a dividing line between the commercial and residential sides of town.  One idea being tossed around is to build single-family homes on the vacant land.  East said the starter houses could be used as an incentive to recruit new teachers.

"Their biggest concern right now is housing. Where will I live? What can I do?" he said.  "Although there are some rentals around, teachers like to be together and be close to their school. This could be an ideal location for that kind of thing."

The district is currently searching for grant money and talking to potential developers.  There are no definite plans yet.  East said he wants a project that would benefit both the community and his school district.

"Losing the school to begin with was a tough decision on what we should do," East said.  "And then, once again, it's tough because you're very much aware of history, generations of Gulfportians, and making sure we don't something that folks are totally unhappy with."

East said the homes could also be available for police, firefighters, and small families.

When the school closed in 1997, it became the Technology and Support Services building. The department has moved to a new building at the corner of Pass Road and 21st Avenue.  That's right across from the school district's central office.

Besides technology, the building also houses continuing education and special education classes. The district will host a ribbon cutting and tour of the new building on August 24th.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.