Grant can restore old NHS

Published 1:20 am Friday, November 4, 2011

Natchez — Former Natchez High School students raised $16,000 in just two days to go toward a grant for their old school building, the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center on Homochitto Street.

The fundraising effort came after the Natchez Board of Aldermen voted to match whatever funds were raised by Natchez Festival of Music organizers before the grant’s deadline on Oct. 7. The grant is from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and requires a 20-percent match.

The aldermen voted to pledge a minimum of $5,000 for matching funds for the grant at their meeting on Sept. 27. Natchez City Planner Bob Nix said at the meeting festival organizers had raised $3,750 so far.

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Rena Jean Schmieg, festival guild president and former Natchez High student, said festival organizers sent e-mails about the grant to former students on Oct. 2.

Schmieg said the word spread about the grant, and by Oct. 4 former students from across the country had contributed $16,000 to add to the $6,000 already raised by the Natchez Festival of Music.

“It shows people really care about the building,” said Schmieg said.

The Martin center housed Natchez High School from 1927 until 1961, and classrooms were used there until 1963.

The city’s pledge of $22,000 totals the matching funds for the grant at $44,000. That match allowed the festival organizers to apply for a maximum $220,000 grant for renovations to the building.

The city’s funds are committed for the grant, Nix said, and will be taken from the general fund and another fund that will be determined once the city starts paying out the grant match if the grant is awarded.

Nix has said his office has inspected the building, and it is in need of $500,000 in repairs, including repairing the building’s roof, repairing and replacing exterior windows and installing lighting for the front exterior of the building, among other repairs.

Nix said there is competition for the grant, and it’s a possibility the money awarded for the grant will be less than $220,000.

He said if that is the case, people who have contributed to the funds will be given the option to take their money back or donate it to the center.

Schmieg said the festival is very thankful that the city is interested in helping restore the Martin center back to its former state as much is possible.

“It needed to be saved,” Schmieg said. “It’s a very amazing building.”