| By Billy Davis
The former North Panola Hospital in Sardis has been deemed unsuitable for a long-term refugee shelter, but plans are moving forward to turn a doctor’s office into a suitable facility.
Sardis and Panola County officials toured the hospital at noon on Friday, backing away from the three-story hospital because of its condition but deciding to pour work into a large doctor’s office located next door.
Panola County Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins said the doctor’s office includes several showers, six bathrooms and a kitchenette among its layout of office space, waiting rooms and a front lobby.
"I would guess the square footage is about 8,000 feet," Perkins said.
Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye said a cleanup will begin today on the doctor’s office and also at the former ambulance facility located nearby.
The doctor’s office is located east of the old hospital. The ambulance service is located west of the hospital.
Those leading the effort for a semi-permanent shelter include City of Sardis officials, Perkins, District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, and concerned citizens of Sardis.
Dye stressed that the purpose of the Sardis shelter would be long-term housing for hurricane refugees.
"This isn’t something that will be put together over night," Dye said. "We’re going to do this right so we can properly care for these people for a long time, maybe for a year’s time."
Dye said the doctor’s office could house 75 people while the ambulance building could house another 25 and provide space for a cafeteria. The ambulance facility also has shower facilities, the mayor said.
Asked about federal assistance, Dye said he was confident that Mississippi’s federal delegation would support the effort with funding.
"I think they’ll come through for us, and I’m told there’s no red tape because of the situation," Dye said.
The visit to the hospital comes after local leaders considered the Batesville Civic Center and the former Batesville American plant in recent days.
The civic center was considered as a possible shelter, but the facility has only two showers and no kitchen facility, said Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey.
Autrey and other officials have apparently been barraged with phone calls by citizens about the civic center, some of them all but demanding that the city use the center as a shelter.
Autrey said the demands might stem from people seeing so much despair on the coast while a large building is seemingly empty and unused in their community.
Batesville’s current Red Cross shelter has yet to be filled to capacity, however, and a newly opened shelter in Oxford has only a few refugees.
The Batesville Church of Christ is also a certified Red Cross shelter but to date hasn’t been needed.
"We took a good look at the civic center partly because people were calling and calling," Autrey said, "but it just wasn’t feasible as a shelter."
Perkins headed a delegation that looked at Batesville American, located north of Batesville on Hwy. 51.
Perkins said the facility, like the civic center, would need additional bathroom facilities and doesn’t have a kitchen.
A large facility such as the hospital or Batesville American could house Katrina refugees on a long-term basis, a requirement that is coming in the next few weeks, said County Civil Defense Director Son Hudson.
Hudson said he has heard of a planned "tent city" for the Winona area, adding that a permanent building would fare better with winter weather just months away.