Plans presented to develop old Fernwood school property

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Lush oak trees and four dilapidated buildings are all that remain of the old Fernwood school campus. The property has been vacant since the Alternative School moved out in May.

"I hate to see the property be idle, particularly because this is a very tough economic time," said Biloxi School Superintendent Dr. Paul Tisdale. "But on the other hand, we don't want to rush into anything."

Tisdale said since Hurricane Katrina, several groups have approached the Biloxi School Board with grand plans to develop the site.  Tisdale said it is prime property.  The 26-acres of land sit at the busy intersection of Pass and DeBuys Roads, right on the Biloxi/Gulfport line.

"So I think it's very well located for something to be developed there.  It's a very good location.  But we want to be sure it's the best use, the most profitable use," Tisdale said.

The engineering firm Moran and Machado of Biloxi came up with a proposal for the property. Its land use plan features town houses and single family homes. There's also a park with a walking trail and wetlands area. And the business zone can be used for offices and restaurants.

Tisdale stressed that nothing has been decided and that these are only preliminary concepts.

"The school board has looked at it briefly," he said. "We've not gone back and said 'We'd like to tweak this or tweak that.'  So I think everybody is just digesting what was presented."

While the school district is still undecided about the fate of Fernwood, it is still moving forward with plans to demolish three of the four remaining buildings on campus:  The main brick school building, cafeteria and auditorium.  Once the asbestos is removed, the three buildings should be torn down by the end of the year.

No matter what ends up there, Tisdale said he wants to only lease the land, not sell it.

"That's one reason you never want to relinquish ownership of the property, because you never know when you're going to need it," Tisdale said.

The Fernwood property was appraised last summer at $1.3 million.  Tisdale believes the amount was low, because the land was listed as "school property."

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