By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – Mayor Donald Gray inked the paperwork Monday morning terminating the lease with the Mississippi Army National Guard for the city-owned building used as the armory for the last 63 years. The 14,000 square feet building located on Wise Street had housed a detachment of the 289th Engineer Company, but downsizing marked the end of an era as the number of Mississippi Army National Guard soldiers across the state has declined from around 12,500 in the 1960s to the current roster of approximately 9,500.
Col. Paul McDonald first approached city officials last December about relinquishing the lease on the building, explaining that the National Guard was reaching out to cities and towns across the state to offer the buildings back to communities as the number of armories will be reduced from 73 to 55. McDonald came back to aldermen in June and said the building is no longer being utilized after the detachment had been consolidated with the company headquarters in Bruce. The next month aldermen voted unanimously to terminate the annual lease. The lease was actually more of a donation, as the Guard paid $1 per year for use of the city-owned building.
The building is valued at almost $2 million and Mayor Donald Gray reported Monday that city officials have fielded numerous suggestions on what to do with the building. Gray said informal requests have ranged from using it for the Red Cross or Compassion Food Ministry or to repurpose it for the Water Valley School District.
The mayor also said the building would be ideal to house the city’s police and fire departments if money becomes available for the project. The departments currently share an outdated building on the corner of Wise Street and Main Street and a new department has been identified as a need that will have to be addressed in the future.