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Upkeep plans lacking for buildings

This is the tale of two buildings — one that is rising from the ground and one that is slowly falling apart.

From Seargent Prentiss Boulevard it is hard to tell what, if anything, is happening at the old A-B Motor Company property along Wood Avenue in Natchez. Since before Christmas, construction crews have been working in the ground, preparing to pour the foundation for the future headquarters of the Natchez Transit Authority.

Serving hundreds of customers each day, the transit authority has outgrown its current facility in the Natchez Senior Center in the old Carpenter No. 2 School on Washington Street. Three million dollars from federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act combined with other funds from the Mississippi Department of Transportation will pay for the majority of the facility when it is complete this November.

As the transit authority slowly rises from the ground, another building across town may be slowly falling apart due to neglect.

It has been many years since students and teachers filled the classrooms of the old Natchez High School, now known as the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center. Now the hallways echo with sporadic noise from the Natchez Ballet Academy, the Natchez Festival of Music and exercise and yoga classes.

What activity there is occurs under a roof that is slowly deteriorating. Puddles of water from past rains sit on discolored floor tiles as pigeons make their homes in the wooden joists. Their droppings deface the old classroom light fixtures and the smell of mold permeating the air.

The problems with Margaret Martin have existed for many years, many of them patched over by the city and by the Festival of Music which has tried valiantly to turn the building into a usable performing arts complex. Just last year, parts of the stage had to be removed for safety concerns.

Last month, the city asked the Natchez-Adams School District for permission to use the district’s gyms for the city recreation league. A leaky roof and other maintenance issues at the Margaret Martin gymnasium, a separate metal building behind the old school, have not been addressed in 8 to 10 years, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown told the school board. The city cannot afford to repair the roof for this year’s basketball season, Brown said.

Aldermen Dan Dillard brought up the various maintenance issues at Margaret Martin at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

“It’s one of those things that doesn’t get better, it only gets worse,” Dillard said.

With a new transit facility being built across town, the city’s budget to maintain and operates its buildings will only get tighter.

When complete, the two-story brick facility will be another building added to the list of the city’s properties. This means another electric bill, another insurance bill and other bills related to the operations of the transit building.

For the first few years, the shiny new building will require little maintenance. But like a new car, the new building smell will wear off — regular maintenance will be required. With all of the vehicle traffic, the paving will take a beating. A building will require repairs from normal wear and tear.

The city hopes to use grant monies to help pay for some of the normal operation and maintenance expenses, but with the current austerity measures in Congress, finding the funds may be more difficult than ever.

The new Natchez Transit Authority and the Margaret Martin building are two very different buildings. Together they tell the tale of a city that lacks a plan for the maintenance and upkeep of the building it owns.



Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.