HATTIESBURG, MS. - Residents and church members of Mount Carmel filled city hall Tuesday evening for a public hearing on one of the buildings at Mt. Carmel Baptist church.
Last month the city closed down parts of North Main Street after officials declared the part of the church unsafe and unstable to the public.
The building received major damage after the 2013 tornado that hit Hattiesburg. According to city engineer Lamar Rutland he says multiple sources have cited the building unstable.
“What I have heard from three professional firms is that the church is in imminent danger of collapsing" says Rutland.
According to documents given to the city from the church, church officials were made aware of the building's condition in April of 2016.
Rutland provided council with several options on the building per the documents. It can cost over $7 million to rebuild the church, $2.6 million to stabilize, and around $500,000 to demolish says Rutland.
Church Pastor Gabriel Bobbett says the church is not going to collapse as fast as architects claim. Bobbett has reasons to doubt it will cost $7 million dollars to rebuild.
“That was for us to repair the entire the campus, it was not for us to repair $7 million in one building" says Bobbett.
He adds, "That’s outrageous if you are going to put all that money in one building." Mt. Carmel church members and residents are calling to rebuild or stabilize the building. “Mt. Carmel wanted to restore the building before it got to this point, but because of legal spins that were fairly undone (to the church), it did not get to this point.”
“I would like to see the city find something, or find someone to help the church, whatever we need to do to restore it" says Jeanette Smith a Hattiesburg resident.
“Are we going to destroy a church of historical edifice that is part of the national story...that is part of Hattiesburg, Forrest County and the state of Mississippi or are we going to preserve it" says church member Margaret Dwight Shelton.
According to Mayor Toby Barker, by law, council has two options: demolish the building or do nothing at all. The city is not allowed to improve or take other measures on the property which is owned by State Bank of Texas says President Carter Carroll.
Carroll says, “Either do nothing and you let it crumble and decay and take your chances of it hurting a citizen or demolishing the damaged part.”
City Council is waiting on bids for demolition of the church.
The council will make a decision by the end of this month says Carroll.