Foundation seeks $1M from state for museum, storage

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 31, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Mimi Miller of the Historic Natchez Foundation is worried about a leak, and she plans to ask the state for $1 million to help fix it.

This isn’t a leaky pipe, however &045; although that could easily happen in the 100-year-old Institute Building, where the foundation she serves as education and preservation director is located.

Instead Miller is concerned that, due to the lack of a general museum of Natchez history, former and current residents are donating artifacts of the town’s past to other institutions, some outside the area.

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&uot;We’re losing artifacts because there’s no place to put them,&uot; Miller said.

To stem that leak, Miller would need to convince the items’ owners there is a place in Natchez that is equipped to store and display such artifacts without damaging them.

But the building will need to undergo an estimated $1 million worth of renovations to protect such artifacts from the elements and establish a museum in the building to display them.

Those upgrades, which Miller said would probably take two or three years after funding is received to complete, would include installing climate control equipment, movable document storage shelves and fire suppression equipment.

The basement would be used for storage, the first floor &045; now offices, empty classrooms and conference space &045; for a museum and the upper floor for offices.

Once the work is done, Miller said she will issue a call for artifacts for the museum, including items from International Paper, Johns Manville and other industries.

State Sen. Bob Dearing said last week he and Miller will draft a line item asking for the funds and would insert it in a bond bill during this legislative session.

The deadline for introducing revenue bills is late next month, but Dearing said that as a last resort, the item could also be offered as an amendment later in the session.

Is the foundation likely to get $1 million, given the state’s tight budget? &uot;We might get it in two or three phases. There was so much bonding in the special session that I don’t know how much&uot; will be proposed this session, Dearing said.

&uot;To me, it would be perfect for Natchez&uot; to have such a museum, he said. &uot;A lot of people would be very interested in coming to see it, and there are a lot of interesting (artifacts the foundation) could get if we had a place to put them.&uot;

Miller said Natchez resident Sim Callon, a longtime foundation supporter, was instrumental in asking Dearing to sponsor the legislation.

In 2003 and early 2004, a $160,000 state Archives and History grant and $340,000 in foundation funds were used for renovations. Specifically, they were used to improve storage of documents dating back to the 1700s; repair a storm-damaged wall; and provide better access, by an elevator and side entrance, for disabled people.

That also included enough funds for architects to finish plans for renovations for the next 25 to 30 years, including the ones now being sought.