GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - For the first time in 41 years, the South Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross will soon have a new home. The old Red Cross office on Fernwood Drive in Biloxi will close and then be sold. That will make way for a move west to a building on Pass Road in Gulfport, between Teagarden and Courthouse Roads.
The current office has seen better days. A look around the building leaves no doubt that time has taken its toll. Ceiling tiles are missing, there are holes in the walls, the roof leaks in some areas, and even electrical equipment is exposed.
The search for a new building has been going on for quite awhile, according to Red Cross board member Joe Farruggio.
"National started the search, I believe, close to three years ago, looking for the right property, looking for the right price and things like that. So, it's been going on intensely for at least the last two years," Farruggio explained.
Renovating the current building would be cost prohibitive; Moving makes better sense.
"We're really excited that we're going to have the opportunity to move into a new space, updated space, so that we can have updated equipment so that we can train our volunteers," Red Cross Executive Director Jay Huffstatler said. "We're going to have great morale for the staff that work there on a daily basis."
That staff includes five employees and hundreds of volunteers. One of the volunteers is Kelly Martinez, who operates the reception desk several hours each week.
"When you have something brand new, you get more excited and more motivated to do anything. Not like we're not motivated now, but it's just when something is brand new we get really excited about it," Martinez said.
In addition to the new look and new feel, the building will provide strength during times of hurricanes. Instead of a building covered with sheet metal, the new one is made of brick.
"It's going to be on higher ground than we are now. It's going to be farther from the Gulf. We're going to have new electrical, new roofing, so it's going to be a lot sturdier building. It should be able to withstand a lot stronger winds than we can currently withstand now," Huffstatler said.
And that means even better service in times of disaster.
The cost of the project is about $600,000. That includes the purchase of the building and the renovations. It's being paid for entirely by the national Red Cross.
The move into the new building should be complete by the end of October.