Jacksonville, university consider land swap
by Paige Rentz
City officials are mulling the idea of letting Jacksonville State University take the old mill property off their hands in a land swap between the two public institutions.

In return for the mill property, JSU would grant the city the Eastwood School and a wooded parcel of land at the northwest corner of Reynolds Street and Pelham Road North.

“We’ve had 10 years to try and find a use for the mill and we haven’t,” Councilman Mark Jones said Monday night. “Where the Eastwood School is would benefit the city more than the university.”

“We’re using it now,” added Councilwoman Sandra Sudduth, who said parts of the 12-acre property are used as a picnic grounds and others as fields for city recreational sports leagues.

“That piece of property doesn’t fit into the long-range plans of the university,” Jones said, “whereas the mill would.”

Jones said the university hopes to use the mill property as a place to house its maintenance, building services and warehouse in a consolidated location.

The move, he said, would free up space in campus buildings and allow the university to expand within its current footprint.

A group of former Eastwood students have been working since last spring to build support to preserve and restore the city’s segregation-era school for black students. The committee succeeded in placing the building on the state’s register of landmarks and heritage in March and over the summer organized an Eastwood School reunion, the first of its kind.

The members are committed to preserving Eastwood for the community, said Jennifer Sims, vice president of the committee.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to ensure that it’s available to all citizens of Jacksonville, and that it’s an educational entity,” she said.

Sharon Abernathy, committee secretary, said she feels like the swap could be a good step for their preservation efforts.

“We have to see how it plays out and what the intentions of the city are, but I feel like it could be a good thing,” she said.

In addition to the Eastwood School, the city could procure the Reynolds Street property, which the city would use as the site of a new fire station for the north end of town.

“It would benefit the university to have a fire station that close,” Jones said, adding that it would help to serve people on both the east and north sides of town. “There are a lot of win-wins.”

Any land swaps would be based on the appraised value of the properties, and Mayor Johnny Smith said Monday evening that he would probably begin the process for an appraisal of the mill on Tuesday.

Attempts Monday night to reach University President Bill Meehan were not immediately successful.

In other business, the council:

- Amended a Dec. 20 resolution to change the amount of its bond issue to fund the city’s proposed public safety complex from $12.75 million to no more than $14 million.

- Approved the employment of Jesse Benefield as a laborer with the Utility Maintenance Department.

- Accepted the resignation of Melanie Raulerson from the Planning Commission.

Star Staff Writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.
© 2013