City, state to work on apartments

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2001

A &uot;misunderstanding&uot; may have slowed work to renovate a former school into affordable elderly apartments, but both local and state officials said they are ready to cooperate and make certain the project moves forward.

Last week, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History curbed construction on the building on North Union Street, known as Carpenter School No. 1.

Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Mississippi landmark under the state antiquities law, any changes must be approved by Archives and History.

Tom Waggener, review and compliance officer for Archives and History since September 1999, said Tuesday that his office approved preliminary plans for renovation of the building, but records show the final plans were never received.

In fact, he said they were not aware work had begun until several Natchez residents called to complain about how new construction looked, particularly a dropped ceiling that partially blocked original exterior windows. Work on the building began last fall.

Archives and History representatives visited the site last week and are now preparing recommendations. Waggener said they want to see the project a success, and the breakdown in the approval process could have been a misunderstanding.

Johnny Waycaster, architect for the project, said he agrees there must have been a &uot;breakdown in communication.&uot; His records show plans were sent to Archives and History. &uot;I agree there must have been a misunderstanding,&uot; he said. &uot;Our records indicate we’ve submitted everything requested of us.&uot;

Waycaster said some correspondence between the project officials and officials at Archives and History could have been lost in the transition in department personnel midway into the project.

James Johnston, community development coordinator, agreed that information may have &uot;fell through the cracks&uot; when the former compliance officer left and Waggener began in 1999. In fact, he said local records showing final plans were submitted to Archives and History are dated April 1999, just prior to the officer transition.

&uot;We will resolve the issue and move on to make this a project the city, the county and community can be proud of,&uot; Johnston said.

Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said he has no doubt there was an oversight on the local level, it was entirely unintentional.

&uot;We work with the Department of Archives and History too closely and too often to have done something intentionally,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ll do whatever we can to rectify it.&uot;

Mimi Miller, director for the Historic Natchez Foundation, said she contacted archives and history after receiving several complaints from neighborhood residents and people who frequently drive past the building.

&uot;Nobody wants to see the project not go forward, but it needs to go forward with respect to the historic character of the building, the neighbors and the neighborhood,&uot; she said.

The $2.1 million restoration of Carpenter School No. 1 is being financed through a partnership with the city, the county, United Mississippi Bank, the Natchez Council on Aging, local investors and out-of-town investors and developers.

Other partners are the Mississippi Regional Housing Authority out of McComb and the Public and Indian Housing Division of Housing and Urban Development.