The historic gargoyles backed GSA into a corner. The federal development team had two choices. It could abandon the Gulfport site. Or it could somehow incorporate an old, vacant school, and its two gargoyles into the new courthouse design.
Nearly $58 million later, that's exactly what they did. "The people that wanted us to preserve this really did," said GSA representative Tom Walker.
That's why the oak trees shading the old Gulfport High School are the same. So is the school's red brick facade, and those two gargoyles above the front entrance. One is still reading a book. The other is still holding a globe. "We preserved the outside of the building and built it up structurally," Walker said, "while we basically built a new building within. It's just a brand new modern building within."
Nothing inside the old school reminds you of what it looked like in 1923, when B. Frank Brown was superintendent of the Gulfport school.
As Walker pointed out while he stood in a new conference room, "It's amazing what you can do with historic buildings if you really try."
Federal designers had to gut everything inside the brick framed structure to make it comply with 21st century technology. "I'm amazed that you can have such bright new office space that is so efficient in a building that was 80 years old," Walker said while strolling down a new hallway.
U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Probation workers will share the two story complex. Becky Luke was stunned when she first saw her new office. "I just didn't realize it was going to be as nice as what it is," she said. "It's beautiful. They did a great job. We're very happy to be here."
In order to save the high school and build the adjacent courthouse tower, federal designers did two things. They trimmed two floors off the tower design, and moved those offices into the school. And they got Gulfport to give up a portion of 21st Avenue. "Had we not come up with a solution of building it on top of the road," said Walker, "this court very easily could have been in Biloxi."
It was rather fitting that the GSA saved the high school, and made it part of the courthouse complex. After all, the man the courthouse is named for graduated from that school in 1931. And judge Russell's graduating class planted one of the oak trees that's still growing on the property.