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City working to repair buildings

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Clarence Green, left, and Amanda Randall work together to arrange a line of tables inside the Natchez Community Center on Friday afternoon ahead of a wedding reception that will be this weekend at the facility.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Clarence Green, left, and Amanda Randall work together to arrange a line of tables inside the Natchez Community Center on Friday afternoon ahead of a wedding reception that will be this weekend at the facility.

NATCHEZ — With emergency repairs constantly being made at several city-owned buildings, officials say the city is working toward a comprehensive building maintenance plan.

Mayor Butch Brown said since taking office last July, his administration has been making emergency repairs on the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, City Hall, City Council Chambers and other buildings. Those buildings, Brown said, have not been maintained regularly in the last 12-15 years.

“We have not yet started a comprehensive plan (for) a rehabilitation program for the buildings that have been neglected for the last 12 or 15 years,” he said. “We’re trying to do that in conjunction with addressing the urgent needs.”

Those needs, Brown said, include:

•Roof repairs at the City Auditorium, Margaret Martin center, Martin gym, City Hall and the Natchez Community Center.

•Electrical and sound system repairs at the Natchez Convention Center.

•Air conditioning and electrical repairs at the City Auditorium.

•Exterior and interior repairs at the City Council Chambers.

Brown said the city has looked at roofs on several city buildings multiple times.

“Every time we look, we find more,” he said. “We’re gaining on them. It’s something that hasn’t been done for a long time, and all of the sudden, we have a double handful to address at one time instead of over a period of time.”

Brown said, to defend previous administrations, that the city has not had the maintenance money in the past.

“We are now, because of selling surplus property, new additional sales taxes, we’re accumulating some money that maybe they didn’t have when they needed to spend it,” he said.

The city will also take on a new building to maintain once the Natchez Regional Transit Facility is completed later this year. Brown said, though, the maintenance costs for the facility will not be those of other older city buildings.

“We surely can take a lot of value from lessons learned,” he said. “This (transit) building will have much better drainage, higher pitched roofs and ways to move water away from it such that it is easier to maintain. Obviously we will definitely get (federal) funding on the transit operation. It’s a bigger bargain because it’s regional public transit.”

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard, who is chair of the public properties committee, voiced concern at this week’s board of aldermen meeting about the city not having enough funding dedicated to maintaining city facilities.

Dillard said Friday that he would like to see the city explore the option of setting aside two mills, which would equal approximately $200,000, for the maintenance of buildings. Dedicating millage, Dillard said, would ensure the money was only used for upkeep of city buildings.

Dillard also said he would like to see the city contract with a roofing company that continuously would perform roof inspections and maintenance.

“It’s a lot like preventive health care,” Dillard said. “It’s a lot easier to deal with the problem before rather than after. Leaks don’t get better; they only get worse. If you’ve got a small leak, you’ve got a big problem, and if you don’t have a roof, you certainly don’t have a building.”

Brown said that dedicating millage for maintenance might be somewhat premature since the city is currently fixing some of the repairs on buildings.

The city has taken care of one of its maintenance problems by selling the Brumfield School Apartments building, which was recently purchased by New Hope Missionary Baptist Church’s non-profit housing program. The church intends to renovate the building and open it up for public housing.

Brown said the city is trying to eliminate the need for the former Martin School gym by partnering with the Natchez-Adams County School District. The city hopes to use current school gyms for city recreation programs.

What will happen to the gym if the city no longer has use for it, Brown said, is up in the air.

“I don’t know yet; we are in the process of selling acreage around the property,” he said. “We still own it, and we’ll keep the water out of it, but that’s about the extent of it.”

Natchez Festival of Music and private donors who are members of the festival have spent approximately $600,000 on the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center building since the festival started using it in 1999, Festival Guild President Rena Jean Schmieg said. The festival also has more repairs planned for the building, but Schmieg said it currently cannot spend any money on the building until the city renews its lease with the guild.

Some of the city’s maintenance needs can be addressed, Brown said, by ensuring the organizations renting the facilities are paying enough rent to cover maintenance. Leases for city-owned buildings and maintenance will be a topic of discussion at a work session the board of aldermen is scheduled to have at 4 p.m. Monday.

“I haven’t really decided that I’m going to write an operational plan, but we are going to make it incumbent on the renters to abide by maintenance rules.”

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