Margaret Martin building needs work

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, June 13, 2018

NATCHEZ — A water leak at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center has set into motion discussions about the building’s tenants and the center’s future.

Repairs to replace the antiquated pipes in Margaret Martin are in the works, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said. Grennell said he gave City Building Inspector Jody Rutter permission to proceed with a project to install new pipes, which will replace an antiquated plumbing system — one that has given the city similar leakage issues before.

The scope of the project would last one month in a best-case scenario and two months at worst, Rutter said.

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The situation has affected at least two tenants who said they have been trying to get an answer from the city regarding the repairs in the weeks since the leak began last month.

One is Mignon Lefebvre, director of the Natchez Ballet Academy, who begins her summer program next week. For Lefebvre, the issue is not the leak itself, but rather the prospect of shutting off the building’s water supply.

She said if the city’s project overlaps with her program, she might not be able to hold it this summer.

“I have a summer camp next week, and it runs for two weeks. If there’s not water, I can’t have the camp,” she said.

The program, she said, will include approximately 10 to 15 children from ages 3 to 9.

Lefebvre and a fellow tenant, Natchez Gymnastics President Kim Strawbridge, were supposed to speak before the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Tuesday. But in some confusion, when it came their turn to speak, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he had never approved the pair to be on the meeting’s official agenda, though the item was clearly stated on copies of the agenda available for attendees of the meeting.

At the end of the meeting during the mayor’s report, Grennell told the tenants that the city was working on the issue “as expeditiously as possible.”

That response did not suffice for Lefebvre, who said she wanted a clear-cut answer on what the repairs would entail as she has been inquiring about for the past three weeks.

“Do I move, do I hang tight for a month? What’s going on,” she said. “This is my livelihood, and I need to know what to do,” she said following the meeting.

Once informed about the timeline, Strawbridge said she would find a way to make her summer gymnastics classes work, whether that meant relocating them temporarily or postponing them. Like Lefebvre, Strawbridge has classes for young children scheduled for next week.

“I’m very grateful that the city is pushing for repairs, and I have faith it can be done in a month,” Strawbridge said, also commending Rutter for working well with the tenants.

But even after learning about the proposed timeline, Lefebvre said her summer camp could be affected, dependent upon when the water is shut off.

Though Lefebvre said she would appreciate if the city offered another place to hold her camp in the interim, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said after the meeting that he did not think the city is obligated to do so.

“They only pay something like $150 (for) a month’s rent,” Grennell said. “I can’t see the city trying to find a place for them or find a temporary place.”

Lefebvre said she would gladly pay more rent or help contribute toward repairs if it meant being more informed.

“If they wanted more rent, I would be willing to pay more rent … they never ask,” she said.

Those are problems of both the past and present — but what about the future?

Grennell could not give a straight yes-or-no answer on whether the city wants to continue to own the Margaret Martin building but said the city must set up a meeting with Natchez Festival of Music officials — who use the center annually for the festival — and discuss the building’s future with them.

“I would really like to sit down with the Festival of Music (representatives) and see what they would be willing to do,” Grennell said, adding he would arrange to have that meeting in the near future.