OUR OPINION: History maintained pays long-term public dividend

The historic 1914 Tupelo Post Office Building at the corner of West Main and North Broadway streets downtown has proven a more adaptable and enduing structure than almost anyone would have imagined when it was built almost a century ago.

This week, the Lee County Board Supervisors formally announced that its basement space would house the Lee County Emergency Management agency’s offices, providing more space than was available in the Lee County Justice Center.

In its long presence as a Tupelo landmark the architecturally restrained federal-style building has housed the postal service, the Board of Supervisors in an earlier tenure, the Lee County Chancery Court, the Community Development Foundation and, again, the Board of Supervisors and affiliated county functions.

The basement offices of emergency management is the same space where secret negotiations steered Toyota toward choosing the three-county PUL Alliance site at Blue Springs for its Corolla assembly plant.

Other meetings, known only to participants, also used the confidentiality of that space to hash out important issues.

Several generations know the building even today as “the post office” because of its long service as the only Post Office location in Tupelo.

It is valuable, prime property that defines the real estate maxim: location, location, location. Architect Rud Robison said the interior space as originally designed lends itself to different adaptations.

“The materials were chosen for longevity,” he said. Robison surmised that a replacement structure would cost $250 to $300 per square foot.

The Board of Supervisors chose economy and function in refurbishing the building to handle the board and, soon, emergency management, saving a significant sum.

The basement, which has not escaped the region’s storm watchers, offers a protected environment.

Robison, project architect with Pryor & Morrow, said the decision saved taxpayers up to two-thirds of the cost of a new structure.

The county paid $401,467 in refurbishing cost when it returned to the building.

“I think it was a really good use of public money,” Robison said.

The former post office has been a mute witness to a lot of Lee County’s history during the past century, much of it good and progressive. Its continuation as a public building for the public’s business creates a useful symbolic parallel between the private and public sectors in the heart of Lee County.