What’s going on at Visitor’s Center?

Published 5:25 pm Thursday, March 22, 2007

All around town, people are expressing their interest to me over what is going on with our Park Headquarters and Visitor Center inside the Natchez Visitor Reception Center. I would like to take this opportunity to respond.

The administrative offices for Natchez National Historical Park are located on the second floor of the NVRC, and we share the common Visitor Center space downstairs with Eastern National, the City of Natchez, the State of Mississippi and Natchez Pilgrimage Tours. Eastern National is a cooperating association which operates bookstores for national parks in this area. They also have outlets at Melrose, the William Johnson House and Mount Locust.

As has been previously reported in The Natchez Democrat, last fall a number of people working downstairs complained of various respiratory symptoms, and there were some pretty funky smells in the building. Out of these health and safety concerns, the National Park Service worked with the City of Natchez to arrange for environmental testing early in December of last year.

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We also asked for help from the NPS Southeast Region and Washington offices in assembling a team of public health and facility experts to assist us with assessing the current condition of the building. Unfortunately, assembling such a team meant juggling a number of schedules and it was late February before the group could meet in Natchez.

From this group, we learned that about 20 percent of the American population suffers from allergic sensitivities to molds and other triggers. This is why some people are affected by indoor air quality issues to a much greater extent that others, and why it is very difficult to pinpoint a source because reactions are so individualized.

We also learned that the Centers for Disease Control recommends using visual inspections to ascertain potential mold problems, and there has been very little mold in evidence at the NVRC. The CDC’s recommended solution to a suspected allergy issue is to eliminate possible moisture intrusion into the building and reduce humidity levels, to clean up mold or mildew wherever it is visible and to make sure that preventive maintenance measures are in place to ensure ongoing air quality — like regular servicing of the air conditioning system and thorough housekeeping with HEPA vacuums.

Meanwhile, potential sources of water leaks into the building have been corrected, and porous materials showing any evidence of previous water leaks at the NVRC which might have led to mold growth have been replaced. Examples are the carpets in the north end of the lobby and inside the Eastern National bookstore area, which have been replaced with a very attractive tile which can be more easily kept sanitized. Also a thorough inspection, cleaning and repair of the air conditioning system has taken place.

Eastern National is ready to move back into their newly renovated bookstore area at the NVRC, which will now share space with park exhibits as well. Look for a grand re-opening date to be announced later in March.

According to our public health team, the Park’s Visitor Center should be safe for both staff and visitors alike as we once again welcome the world to our doors for Spring Pilgrimage.

Kathleen Jenkins is the superintendent of the Natchez National Historical Park. She can be reached at 501-442-7049, ext. 13.