By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery is in the middle of a makeover and more changes are on the horizon.
About $1.2 million in renovations to the 25-acre property began in 2010 with extensive work on the Hatchery Manager’s Residence, a Victorian home built in the first decade of the 20th century. The structure was reinforced, and lead paint was removed throughout the house.
“They had to dig up all the ground around the base of the house to get any lead that might have flicked off,” said Laura Dobbins, hatchery office assistant. “They were serious about it.”
Work on the exterior of the house is complete. Decisions still need to be made about the interior, said project leader Ricky Campbell.
It could be used for bunkhouses for state or federal employees who work on projects at the hatchery, or it could be turned into a temporary residence for people who volunteer their time at the hatchery. There’s also the possibility of renting out the building.
When the decision’s made, the work will move quickly, Campbell said. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has “electricians and carpenters and equipment people,” he said. “We’ve just got a cadre of skilled employees who can come in and get the work done.”
The old administrative offices currently hold alligator snapping turtle eggs. That building eventually will be torn down because of asbestos and structural issues.
The new offices sit close to Elizabeth Street, and a conference room is included that the general public can use as long as it’s scheduled in advance.
“I’d say it holds anywhere from 12 to 20 people,” Dobbins said.
Several of the fish ponds on the property have new kettles, which are concrete areas that make it easier to remove fish from the ponds. The hatchery also received a new well during the updates.
Material has been purchased to construct a levee in a pond directly behind the office. The plan is to build a covered classroom with a fenced-in area where people can view alligators, turtles and fish.
“It’ll be a watchable wildlife area,” Campbell said. “The part below the platform will look like a swamp.”
The wish list for the future involves a plan to purchase a 100-acre piece of property at the southeast edge of the hatchery.
“We want to create a wildlife area, an urban refuge inside Tupelo,” Campbell said. “We’ve been talking about it for several years. There’s some support for it.”
Everyone’s invited to check out the changes between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Visitors also are welcome to offer suggestions.
“This hatchery has been serving since 1901 simply because we have community support,” Campbell said. “That’s important to us.”