The building, originally constructed in 1894 with subsequent additions in 1914 and 1951, is slated for restoration. Our plan is to commence with the restoration of the 1951 annex, as it is currently in the best condition. Initially, our aim was to enhance security by installing new windows and doors; however, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has mandated that we prioritize roof replacement for the 1951 section. Consequently, we have completed the installation of a new roof on the 1951 portion and have established a firewall between this addition and the original 1894 building.
Despite the limitations in fully utilizing our school facilities, we are committed to maintaining an active presence in the Meridian community. Through the support of organizations such as The Riley Foundation, The Phil Hardin Foundation, and others, we have been able to sponsor a variety of community events and activities as we continue to seek funding for the renovation and restoration process:
Bringing the Tuskegee Airmen plane and exhibit to Meridian
Dr. John Hunt, Professor of Science and Tech. from Mississippi College for Science Fun Day.
The Emmitt Till play at the Temple Theater.
The George Stinney play at the Temple Theater.
Wechsler Day, the third Saturday of October each year.
Annual Free Breakfast and Toy Giveaway, the third Saturday of December.
We have recently secured two grants: a Civil Rights Grant from The National Park Service amounting to $500,000 and a Historic Preservation grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History totaling $277,000. Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this combined funding would have covered the restoration and renovation expenses for the 1951 annex, with the exception of three upper-level classrooms. However, all work came to a halt indefinitely due to the pandemic.
Following the COVID-19 disruptions, we initiated a bidding process for the same scope of work. We advertised for bids on September 9th and 16th, 2021, with the bids being opened on October 20, 2021. Based on the lowest bid received, we found ourselves approximately $900,000 short of the necessary funds to fully complete the restoration and renovations.
In January of 2023, we commenced renovation work on the 1951 building, which includes the addition of handicap-accessible doorways and ramps, as well as the retrofitting and replacement of all doors and windows. We are actively pursuing additional funding to successfully conclude this phase of the project and are hopeful that we can secure the necessary resources to extend the restoration efforts to the original 1894 building and the 1914 annexation.
We have replaced and/or repaired all windows and doors in the 1958 building. Also, the building has handicap-accessible parking and walkways.
Wechsler School, located in Meridian, Mississippi, was constructed in 1894. It holds historical significance as the first brick public school building in Mississippi for African-American children, funded with public resources. Initially serving primary through eighth grades, it later expanded to include high school education. In 1991, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1993, it was designated a Mississippi Landmark.
The original 1894 structure was a two-story Italianate building with six rooms on the first floor and two rooms plus an auditorium on the second floor. It featured decorative pilasters along its facades and a main entrance with a segmented-arched canopy on the north side. Initially, coal fireplaces provided heating, requiring a small coal storage structure, which is no longer present after the installation of steam heating in 1914.
In 1914, a bond issue of nearly $75,000 was approved for improvements and expansions across the city's schools. Wechsler School used a portion of this bond to construct a two-story brick annex south of the original building, linked to it by a skywalk. The annex contained classrooms on both floors and a basement boiler room. The school's grade levels were gradually expanded to include all twelve grades by 1921.
The school played a vital role in offering high school diplomas to black students in east central Mississippi, becoming the first public school to do so in the area. The 1920s saw exterior stucco covering applied to the 1894 building, while the interiors were renovated to accommodate offices, classrooms, and restrooms.
In 1937, the high school (grades 9-12) relocated to T.J. Harris High School, and Wechsler continued as an elementary and junior high school until 1971. Additional construction in 1951 included four classrooms, an auditorium, cafeteria, teachers' rooms, and showers. The school's basement was also converted into classrooms, and the boiler room was relocated to the new addition.
From 1971 to 1983, Wechsler served as a kindergarten for both black and white children but closed down after the 1983 school year. Subsequently, it was utilized by the Mahogany Performing Arts theatre organization until 1986. After a period of vacancy, the Wechsler Community Art Center Association (now the Wechsler Foundation) took ownership in 1994 and has since worked on raising funds for its renovation and revitalization efforts.