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Natchez awaits Legislature's final act on funding repairs for old school building
from Staff Reports - NEWS
March 27, 2019 - ListenUpYall.com

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – City officials and other Natchez residents are anxiously awaiting final action this week on legislation to provide state funds to renovate the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.

While the Mississippi House and Senate have passed separate bills for the state to borrow $6 million for the city-owned building, the two chambers must agree on one version to send Gov. Phil Bryant for him to sign into law. The Legislature is aiming to end its annual session by the weekend.

The longtime home of the Natchez Festival of Music, the former Margaret Martin school has been plagued for years by various structural problems and repair needs. The city has been struggling to find funds to renovate the Homochitto Street building, a state-designated historic landmark built in 1927 as Natchez High School.

Recent plumbing problems have rendered the building unusable. The music festival is having to relocate events to the Natchez City Auditorium. The annual month-long event is in May.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen on Tuesday discussed awarding a contract to a bidder for making the plumbing repairs, but Mayor Darryl Grennell suggested aldermen hold off until the Legislature makes a final funding decision. He noted state funds could cover the plumbing repairs but would not if the city moved forward now in fixing the water lines. He said the cost would be about $58,000, and the repairs would not be finished by May for the music festival.

The $6 million for the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center is embedded in House Bill 1674, a multimillion-dollar measure for the state to issue bonds to fund a wide variety of construction projects throughout Mississippi. House and Senate negotiators are hammering out a final version for the full Legislature to approve.

The music festival moved into the Gothic Revival/Tudor-style building in 1999 after the Natchez-Adams School District closed the school. The city, festival organization and state Department of Archives and History have spent funds in past years to maintain and repair the building, but one report estimated $20 million more is needed.

With the music festival having to relocate to the City Auditorium, the Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday to waive the normal rental fee groups normally must pay to use the building.

To read and keep track of House Bill 1674, go to the Legislature’s website: billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/2019/pdf/history/HB/HB1674.xml




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