City looking to borrow school district’s courts

Published 12:03 am Saturday, February 16, 2013

JAY SOWERS / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Physical education teacher James Coleman sweeps the floor Friday afternoon in the gymnasium at Gilmer McLaurin Elementary School in Natchez after the end of classes.

NATCHEZ — The players in the City of Natchez’ recreation basketball league could be soon hustling up and down unfamiliar courts.

The children’s league, which has four different age divisions, currently plays its games in the gym behind the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center. But Mayor Butch Brown appeared before the Natchez-Adams County School Board of Trustees Thursday to request the school district allow the city to use its gyms for the basketball league.

Brown said Friday the Martin gym has had little or no maintenance in the last eight to 10 years. A leaky roof, he said, is just one of the problems in the gym.

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Recreation Operations Director Wilbert Whittley said roof leaks at the gym have him keeping a mop handy.

“If there’s a real hard rain, we’re in there mopping up the water,” he said.

The city, Brown said, does not have the money to fix the roof and get the gym in the shape it should be for the basketball league.

Whittley said being able to use the school district’s multiple gyms will allow the league to play different games at the same time, instead of spending all day on Saturdays in the Martin gym.

“It would cut down on some of the time we would be in the gym,” Whittley said. “We get there Saturday morning at 8:30 and are there until 4:30. If we had more gyms, we could have the different age groups in different locations at the same time.”

Up until Martin School closed, Brown said, the city’s basketball program operated at different gyms. The city inherited the Martin gym when Margaret Martin School closed.

“This is not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We’re going back to a previously successful operation.”

Brown said the city’s basketball league would be planned around the school system’s gym use.

“We’re not going to expect them to relinquish their program for ours,” he said.

Brown said his idea is that the city provides the staff for the gyms when the city is using the facilities. He said he assumed the school district would want to provide its own security.

School Board President Wayne Barnett said he believes the school board would be willing to allow the city to use the school gyms if a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two outlining the responsibilities of each entity.

The school district, Barnett said, does not have the funds to provide security, electricity or clean up the gyms when the school district is not using them. Barnett said the school board recognizes the importance of city recreation and wants to work with the city to come to an agreement that benefits both entities.

“We want to be team players,” he said. “We don’t want to make any money off recreation because that’s not what we’re in the business of. We just don’t want to take money out of our budget and spend it on recreation when it should be spent on education.”

Brown said he agreed that a memorandum of understanding should be worked out between the city and the school district. He said he wants to sit down with the school board and work out a deal as soon as possible.

“We need to sit down and figure out what we can afford and what they can afford,” he said. “I would like to do it as soon as possible, realizing that the end of the school year is approaching quickly. Hopefully, we could have the summer to work out the details and be ready for the next time we need the gyms.”