Colonnades in need of critical work

Published 12:06 am Thursday, July 30, 2015

NATCHEZ — The Toll Plaza Colonnades on Canal Street received a much-needed face-lift — but its body still needs some critical work.

While the columns boast a fresh coat of paint and most of the columns have been fully restored, Dick Thompson, owner of Live Oak Construction — the company that administered the restoration — said some key renovations were left off his scope of work.

“There are no lights, because the electrical wiring still needs to be installed,” Thompson said. “And there’s still no roof.”

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Thompson said Live Oak would have been “more than happy” to install the roof and wiring, but after seeing how the city maintains its public properties, he said he would rather not engage with another city project.

While working on the project, Thompson said there were several unforeseen structure issues with the colonnades, which led him to issue 11 change orders for the project, totaling $62,500.

To date, none of those change orders have been approved.

Thompson also requested Live Oak be paid $2,000 for each day spent working on the project to cover costs incurred from damages and delays.

“When you have a high profile, 300-year-old-city, you don’t let this happen,” Thompson said of the deterioration of the colonnades, which are supposed to serve as the focal point for the city’s tricentennial celebration.

To date, Live Oak has received $352,395 for the project, which was awarded on a $430,000 bid.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said the city would pick up where Live Oak left off, and install the roof and electrical wiring.

“It will be a minor expense, and we will do it with our people,” Brown said of the additional work. “We have capable personnel on staff with the city.”

Before the city can begin administering the extra work, Brown said the city and Live Oak must first complete a punch list — a list of minor tasks that must be completed at the end of a project.

Brown said once Live Oak completes the punch list, then they will receive their final payment and officially be released from the colonnades project.

Thompson said he stands by Live Oak’s work on the colonnades, but without proper maintenance by the city, Thompson said it would be easy for the colonnades to fall into disrepair again.

“The city just hasn’t maintained their public properties like they should,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he is also concerned about the city’s decision to use in-house personnel to administer the remaining renovations.

“It won’t be a good job,” Thompson said. “It’s going to fall apart again.”

From a historical standpoint, Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond said it’s important the city accurately administer the remaining renovations because the colonnades serve as a key complement to the Natchez Visitors and Reception Center.

“The colonnades are the reason why the visitor’s center was designed where it was,” Bond said.

Like Thompson, Bond said she is concerned about the city’s ability to finish the project in a high-quality fashion.

“The project needs to be finished because it doesn’t have a roof, and it’s already beginning to deteriorate again,” Bond said. “All the money will be wasted unless it’s fully restored. I think it seems to point to a larger problem with the maintenance of city-owned property. We need to have better maintenance so they don’t fall into bad condition.”

Bond encouraged the city to look into better staffing, planning and funding for public properties — especially historical properties, like the colonnades.

“I think moving forward, we might be able to do a better job working in conjunction with the park service to work out a recurring maintenance plan for these structures,” Bond said.

Despite the colonnade’s current condition, which Bond said is less than ideal; Brown said the city would have the colonnades project completed within the next few months.

“I know (Thompson) has his issues with this project, but we (the city) are well within the scope of our contract, and he knows that,” Brown said. “All will be done before 2016.”