sábado, junio 18, 2005

Workers try to preserve former Masonic Lodge

Work on schedule for new justice court

Mason Adam Street, a project coordinator with Jay-Van Co., said he enjoys working on historic renovations, so he was thrilled to learn he would be involved in the renovation of the historic Hattiesburg Masonic Temple.

"It's a gorgeous building with a lot of history," he said. "This project is close to my heart."

The temple is being renovated to house the Forrest County Justice Court. The project is costing the county about $2.49 million.

The move, projected to take place in late December will meet a great need, according to Forrest County board attorney Jeff Hollimon. He said the construction is running according to schedule, but he has high hopes it might be done before the end of December. Court is now being held in the Forrest County Sheriff's Department.

"There are four justice court judges trying to operate in one small courtroom," Hollimon said. "Every time they have court, there is standing room only. This will move them to a place that will provide adequate room and office space for the county prosecuting attorneys, and it will free up some much-needed space in the jail for the sheriff's department."

Though work is moving along smoothly, extreme care is being taken to preserve the history of the building. Hollimon said that Lewis Griffin, the project architect, and Curtis Elliott, the building maintenance superintendent, have worked closely with the state Department of Archives and History.

Street said currently the hardwood floors and exterior windows are being restored.

"That was the beauty about this whole building," he said. "Most of it is being restored to its original context. Everything is being pulled out and put back in its original place. Inside the building there is a piece of stone from a quarry where King Solomon's temple was built in Jerusalem."

The stone was donated by W.S.F. "Pa" Tatum, a former Hattiesburg mayor who brought it back from a trip to Israel in 1904.

As a Freemason, Street said he took some time to research the history of the building. Freemasons are members of a major fraternal organization called Free and Accepted Masons that has certain secret rituals.

"That lodge was built in 1919," he said. "A lot of politicians did a lot of speeches from the exterior balcony. Most Masons in Hattiesburg went through that lodge."

Street said he had never been inside the building until he was involved in the renovation project.

"It was breathtaking," he said. "It's one of the most beautiful lodges I've had an opportunity to witness myself ... just the sheer size of it alone and the beauty of the architecture."

In addition to preserving the building's history, the contractors have worked to add features to the building.

"We have a lot of the plaster repair and restoration that is being completed," he said. "The exterior restoration is being completed and we are in the process of making it handicapped-accessible and putting an elevator in it."

Justice Court Clerk Sharon Thompson said she looks forward to working in the new building.

"I'm old enough to remember a lot of the structures that were downtown when I was a child," she said. "It's important to preserve that. I think it's going to be quite appealing when we get in. I think it's going to be beautiful."

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