The old Hattiesburg MS High School building is located on Main Street. It was originally built in 1911 and then expanded in 1921. In 2003 the building was named by the Mississippi Heritage Trust as one of the most endangered buildings in Mississippi. In 2005 the building was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. On December 15, 2006, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History announced it was giving a $1 million grant towards the restoration of the building
Early May 29, 2007, at around 6:00 AM, a fire began in the first floor of the front portion (the 1921 addition) of the building near the “Boys” entrance. By 7:30 AM the fire had spread up four floors to the roof, and at about 8:00 AM the roof collapsed. With nothing to strengthen the walls the third and fourth floor walls were leaning out towards Main Street.
The day after the fire the Hattiesburg Fire Department announced they believed that the fire was caused by arson. The building did not have any gas or electricity, one of the doors had been kicked in, and traces of an accelerant were found in the first floor. In meetings later in the week with the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association, city officials, USM representatives, and others, the decision was made to continue the restoration of the building, though the third and fourth story front wall had to be torn down, as well as the wall separating the 1911 and 1921 buildings.
An initial $1000 reward for tips leading to an arrest was offered by the Metro Crime Stoppers, and in the following weeks the reward rose to $12,500 as various business owners and organizations contributed to the amount. On August 13-14, 2007, a seventeen year old senior at Hattiesburg High School and a sixteen year old were arrested and each charged with two counts of arson (one count of arson was for a fire at Briarfield Place Apartments, where one of the suspects lives) and a count of commercial burglary. Bond for the seventeen year old suspect was set at $100,000 for each count of arson and $25,000 for the count of commercial burglary, totaling $225,000.
Finlo Construction is currently overseeing the cleanup project, where extra bracing will be installed and some demolition will continue. The initial cleanup is expected to cost about $250,000. Then work will begin on additional support and repairing the exterior and roof of the building, which is expected to be paid for with insurance money, and will probably cost nearly $600,000. The total cost of restoration is expected to be about $14.25 million, with $10 million being spent before USM moves into the building, and the remaining $4 million being spent on an auditorium and museum.
By early 2010 the first phase of the restoration was complete and the front facade rebuilt, but it is estimated that it will take another two years before the project is finished.
In late 2012 plans for USM to move into the building were officially cancelled, due to budget concerns.
Later, plans were announced to turn the building into apartments for residents 62 years old and older.