Old Pascagoula High lives on as senior housing

Time may not have always been on developer Steve Nail’s side in his 14-year quest to transform the 74-year-old Pascagoula High School into Bayside Village Senior Apartments. But it certainly came to his aid June 21.

At mid morning, he flew from Jackson to Pascagoula for the ribbon-cutting for Bayside Village. After the ceremony at which he delivered the news the project had won Mississippi Main Street Association’s award for “Best Historic Rehabilitation, he hopped on a flight to Jackson. He walked into the banquet room of The Old Capitol Inn just as the award was being presented.

Rebecca Davis, director of Pascagoula Main Street, later marveled at the timing. “Right as they were calling his name he walked into the door,” she said.

Nail, principal of Intervest, based at the Madison Airport, has been doing rural restoration and redevelopment projects around the state for three decades. He took on the Pascagoula High restoration in 1998, with a plan of leveraging tax credits, including ones for historic preservation, to help provide housing for Pascagoula’s moderate-income seniors.

“The town had some critical housing needs. That’s what interested me,” Nail said in an interview a few days after landing the restoration award.

He received an option on the 70,000-sqaure-foot building but failed to get the tax credits he needed. He didn’t give up on the project, though, and by 2008 managed to secure the needed historic restoration credits and credits from the Mississippi Home Corporation, the state’s housing agency.

Post-Katrina rebuilding efforts led to a bump-up in the credits, allowing Nail to begin work on the project in 2010.

At the direction of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the apartments would be “three-walled units” and the original windows would have to be maintained. Many of the bricks had fallen from the building over the decades and would have to be replaced with original matches. Nail found the bricks in Pennsylvania and returned with 15,000 of them.

“Then we had to find a brick mason to put them in there. Every little piece is just painstaking,” he said.

Matching the brick proved very difficult “and scared me at first,” Nail noted.

He kept the wide corridors down which generations of Pascagoula high-schoolers had passed. Some of the tenants are former students, Nail said.

Tenants began moving into Bayside Village’s 57 units in January.

He donated two buildings on the high school’s grounds for use as Pascagoula’s maritime museum.

Reviving what had been proclaimed Mississippi’s most modern high school in 1938 consumed a lot of time. And meeting the exacting specifications posed sizable challenges.

“It’s not something I had done before,” Nail said. “If I had known everything I know now I may have gone the other way.”

Davis, the Main Street director, is grateful Nail did not. “It is so cool that they saved that building,” she said. “He is giving back to the senior community. That is very nice.”

Meanwhile, the project has made Nail known to people throughout Mississippi who are nostalgic about their old high schools, he said. “People have been calling me to do their old high schools that have been sitting there forever.”

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