Courthouse renovation estimate $4M

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ – Renovating Memorial Hall for use as a federal courthouse

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should cost an estimated $4 million, architects for the project

told local officials in a meeting last week.

Waggonner and Ball Architects of New Orleans have estimated

the project’s cost at $4,078,800, said Mimi Miller, executive

director of the Historic Natchez Foundation, which owns the building.

Of that, the City of Natchez and Adams County will pay a total

of $1.5 million, including the cost of making some renovations

to the outside of the building and cleaning out the inside of

the building.

That price tag makes it essential that local governments apply

for a $500,000 state grant that could be used to renovate the

property, Miller said.

City Attorney Walter Brown had said after an Adams County Board

of Supervisors meeting in late August that renovating the building

would cost an estimated $4.5 million.

Of that, he said the federal government would pay $3.5 million

and the city and county would pay a total of $1 million, hopefully

splitting their cost 50-50. The federal government would pay the

cost of operating the courthouse.

The city must also buy a smaller building adjacent to Memorial

Hall for use as a sallyport and as a site for parking space for

the disabled.

&uot;The federal government will then come in and do the rest&uot;

of the renovations, Miller said. The federal government – and,

hopefully, a state grant -will pay the rest of the cost of renovations.

Miller is applying for a grant of up to $500,000 from the Mississippi

Heritage Preservation Grant Program administered by the state’s

Department of Archives and History.

That amount would include a 20-percent funding match by local

governments, Darryl Grennell, vice president of the Board of Supervisors,

said during that board’s Monday meeting.

Grant funds may be used for preservation, restoration or development

of courthouses and school buildings. In certified local government

communities (CLGCs) like Natchez, the money can be used for other

types of preservation projects as well.

&uot;This building was built as a school auditorium with classrooms

below and will be renovated for use as a courthouse, so it fits

this (grant program) really well,&uot;&160;Miller said. The

building, dedicated in 1852, has been vacant since the mid-1980s.

Natchez was the first of 25 cities and towns to be named as

a CLGC. The designation allows such communities to apply for a

small amount of restoration funds through the state.

The application must be submitted by Oct. 26. On Dec. 7, the

Department of Archives and History’s Board of Trustees will select

grant recipients, who will be notified by Dec. 21.

&uot;Projects have to be completed by Dec. 31, 2004, but that

won’t be a problem for us,&uot;&160;Miller said.

The structural integrity of the building – which has been used

at different times in the past as an opera hall, a public library

and a skating rink – is good, Miller said.

&uot;But there’s no mechanical system, there are deteriorating

floors, some windows need to be replaced, … and there are doors

that must be repaired and replaced,&uot; Miller said.

Even so, the Historic Natchez Foundation has spent about $150,000

on some renovations to the building over the last several years

and about $35,000 on architectural studies, Miller said.

To reimburse that cost to the foundation, &uot;we’ve offered

for the City of Natchez to pay us for that or trade us another

building,&uot;&160;Miller said. Payment could be made over time

instead of in one lump sum, she added.

Renovation of Memorial Hall for use as a federal court could

start as early as nine months from now, Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot;

Smith said Monday.

&uot;That may be a little optimistic, but if everything goes

well, we could start construction in nine or 10 months. There’s

a lot of planning to be done first,&uot; he said. Smith could

not be reached for further comment Tuesday.

Brown, who also could not be reached for comment Tuesday, said

in late August that it would be at least 15 months before court

could be held in the building.

Memorial Hall is a good location for the courthouse because

it is close to the Eola Hotel, making it easier to sequester jurors,

and to the Adams County Jail.

Local officials have been trying to lure a federal courthouse

to Natchez since 1999, when they successfully lobbied Congress

to pass a bill allowing Judge David Bramlette to request federal