By BECKY GILLETTE
W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Company is not only the general contractor for a project to totally transform the interior of the Millsaps Christian Center in Jackson, but has also donated $2.2 million toward turning the historic building into a modern facility that will include at its center an inspiring light-filled cruciform chapel that will welcome people of all faiths or no faith at all.
“That part of the project is very important to the Yates family,” said Paul Musick, vice president and division manager of the Jackson office of Yates Construction. “It gives us an opportunity to work with the school and bring back an historic building on campus. This is one of the main buildings for Millsaps built back in 1950s facing West Street. This renovation will enhance the college’s efforts to revitalize their buildings and refocus on that West Street neighborhood behind them.”
Musick said while they will do some reformatting of the building itself to bring it up to current standards, it will still have the same exterior look. The architecture will blend with the historic nature of the building.
“We have some great projects and are honored to be all over the world in different things, interesting things, from the State Department to Volvo and Mercedes, but this project has a special place in our heart,” said William G. Yates III, president and CEO of Yates, which is the largest construction company based in Mississippi. “I’ve been talking to Rob Pearigen (president of Millsaps) about this project for several years, and his vision and commitment and dedication to make this happen has really been inspiring.”
The project will take an estimated 18 months to complete with constructed expected to be complete by December 2018. After furniture and technology is added, the building is expected to be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2019.
Another major donor for the project is the Selby and Richard McRae Foundation, which is contributing $4 million. After the renovation is complete, the building will be rededicated as the Selby and Richard McRae Christian Center.
Dale Partners has been selected to provide architectural services for the design-build renovation that will cost an estimated $13.2 million.
“We are honored to have been chosen to help restore and enhance this iconic building on Millsaps’ campus,” said Jeff Barnes, a partner with Dale Partners. “We are infusing the entire interior with daylight through the four internal courtyards surrounding the new chapel. Floor-to-ceiling windows and a chapel dome will lend a sense of history and serenity to the inter-denominational worship space.”
Barnes said that, when complete, the new Christian Center will further enhance the college’s academic programs and religious traditions, including its historical relationship with the United Methodist Church.
Plans include construction of a state-of-the-art lecture hall, high-tech classrooms, faculty offices, suites, and seminar rooms to be used by the departments of English, history, religious studies, philosophy, and classical studies. Barnes said the building’s front façade, long a symbol of Millsaps College, will be restored and enhanced with a new clock tower which will be faithfully reconstructed to match the original.
John Sewell, director of marketing and communications for Millsaps College, said the institution is looking forward to the transformation of a building that has been in need of work for some time.
“These renovations will include new faculty offices, brand new classrooms and learning spaces and a 150-seat lecture hall on the east end of the building,” Sewell said. “But the most transformative space will be the renovation of the former theater. All of that space is being transformed into a chapel that will be available to students and visitors. The chapel will be surrounded by a courtyard that was part of the original design of the building. It will be an open and light-filled space that will be really beautiful and inspiring. We are a college affiliated with The United Methodist Church, but this is a place where people with other faiths or no faith are also welcome. It is an open and inviting campus and this chapel will be a big part of growing the openness for years to come.”
The Millsaps campus is bordered by Woodrow Wilson to the North and State Street to the East. The west boundary is on West Street.
“Across West Street is the Midtown community, an area undergoing a lot of revitalization,” Sewell said. “We will be reopening our gate on the west side of campus, a positive step to be inviting and inclusive to our Midtown neighbors.”
Millsaps is also planning another building in that area, a new visual arts center. Sewell said ground will be broken on that project in another two months, and that project will also continue to grow presence and openness on that side of campus.
Pearigen said during the formal launch of renovations that plans have been made for the project for three years and there has been a two-year fundraising effort.
“When finished, the building will, indeed, be a jewel on our campus,” Pearigen said.
The building will also include a suite housing the chaplaincy, the Center for Ministry, and the Wesley Foundation, which Pearigen said will help the college strengthen its relationship with The United Methodist Church as called for in the college’s strategic plan.
Pearigen said with the humanities departments and the chapel under one roof, it will also reinforce the shared values and compatibility of reason and faith – the mind and the heart – in our world today.
“The renovation will return a beautiful chapel to the heart of the building, providing a sacred space that has not been available on our campus for many years,” Pearigen said. “Serving as a worship space and as the center of the college’s religious and spiritual life, the new chapel will allow students of all faiths to connect their intellectual, spiritual, and moral commitments. It will also provide a central, sacred, gathering place for our community in times of celebration and in times of sadness.”