Historic school gym is now “Landmark Center”

By SESHADRI KUMAR

The 86-year-old Missouri City Middle School gymnasium, initially destined for demolition, is now a landmark, as Fort Bend County officially unveiled the “Landmark Center” at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 5.

Fort Bend County’s Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage, the man behind the monumental project, led the ceremony.

Exuding a sense of satisfaction, Prestage narrated “the long and arduous journey” that began in 2008, when a group of former students of the school, such as the late Allen Robinson, ex-council member of Missouri City, and late John Ferro, a Stafford resident, approached him to save the building from extinction.

The late Stafford Mayor Leonard Scarcella also attended this school.

While largely preserving the original structure, the renovated community center features a new lobby, basketball rims, mezzanine level on both sides, fitness center, game center, juice/coffee bar, meeting space and a museum.

Acquired by the county from Fort Bend ISD in 2016, Commissioner Grady Prestage led the effort to completely restore the building to its original art deco design as he felt this was an opportunity to save a piece of local history.

Located at 100 Louisiana Street, the gymnasium was built in 1935 as a part of Missouri City High School when Missouri City and Sugar Land had their own school districts.

The two districts consolidated to create Fort Bend Independent School District on April 18, 1959, and Missouri City High School became the new district’s white secondary school.

With desegregation in 1965, black high school students were brought to the building from M.R. Wood School in Sugar Land. Missouri City High School then became Missouri City Junior High School in 1975.

FBISD opened the current Missouri City Middle School behind the gym in August 2008.

The gym building had a small fire and there was vandalism. Consequently, it remained boarded up. The district closed the building in 2009.

Fort Bend ISD, during the tenure of Superintendent Tim Jenney, held a bond election to build the new middle school behind the gymnasium and the district earmarked some funds for renovating the building, but that did not happen.

Proposals for an early childhood center and later, a competitive college basketball and volleyball center, failed to take off.

In 2016, Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted to take over ownership of the building from FBISD after the district chose not to allocate funding for the renovations.

In 2015, the voter of fort bend county approved a parks bond election. That provided some money to get this project started, Prestage said.

The challenges ahead was to first start with someone who could see this vision.

“So we were fortunate enough have a local architects, Lina & Michael Sabouni of AutoArch, who helped in understanding what could be done in organizing the building, and also not got paid enormously as they get paid for this,” Prestage said.

There were built in bleachers, not needed for a community center and the plan was to take the bleachers down and add a mezzanine level on both sides that would give about 4,000 square feet of usable space.

But, in August 2017, the first day of Hurricane Harvey hit the front factory clock and the roof on both sides collapsed, but the gym remained intact. The beautiful barrel shaped room protected the floor.

When the structural integrity of the building is compromised, the building had to be saved for the public so that the building can last for a number of years, Prestage said.

“We finally figured out, thanks to our architect and the city consultants, a solution to make this building work,” Prestage said.

When the crew decided to take the unsightly ceiling down, a beautiful ceiling with original steel was uncovered and after scrapping the stain , a pristine floor emerged.

There were 54 windows in this building. When air conditioning came around, the school district decided to put bricks and blocked off the windows.

City of Missouri City and Fort Bend County put in through the tax increment investment zone about a million dollars.

The $4.6 million project was carried out by Teal Construction Company, and funded in part through the county’s 2015 facility bond.

Now, it is time for the community to make this center flourish by suggesting programs they want and by doing workouts, holding concerts and recitals, having meetings and promoting fellowship, among the youth, adults and seniors, Prestage said.