Margaret Martin worth restoring

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 16, 2018

The former Margaret Martin School on Homochitto Street is like a wrecked, multi-million-dollar super car. Our leaders need to work quickly to make and implement a plan for its future.

People see its sleek lines, amazing design and beauty and almost salivate at the potential the building holds.

But like a damaged Bugatti Veyron or Ferrari Pininfarina Sergio few admirers have the financial means to invest in the needed repairs.

Like a Ferrari, working on an old building, particularly one as large as Martin Martin will be an expensive undertaking.

At the moment, the building’s halls, which were once bustling with students, now sits empty.

It’s uninhabitable because of a busted water pipe, an inglorious injury for such a regal structure.

But while a leaking pipe at a house might cost a few hundred dollars to repair, the estimates of the repairs needed to get the water line repaired were $60,000. Imagine the cost of replacing a Ferrari’s transmission, for example, and you can quickly continue seeing the comparison.

That $60,000 would just be the tip of the iceberg if one was to truly restore the entire structure for re-use.

Martin Martin is a beautiful building. The two-story structure was built in 1927, just before the Great Depression and is a Gothic Revival style building.

And, just like a world-class car that’s been in an accident, the Mississippi Landmark needs new life breathed into her.

Several groups are quietly working to find a way to reuse Margaret Martin. Former school buildings lend themselves to be repurposed for a myriad of potential educational and cultural options.

Having the Natchez-Adams School District consider revamping the building and putting it back into use as a school building seems a wise option to consider.

An entity would need deep resources to fund getting the building truly roadworthy again.

Some have called for the City of Natchez to sell the property, simply viewing it as a money pit. Obviously as smart residents push city and county leaders to downsize government through consolidating services, local government does not need as much property.

As a further path to consolidation — one that reduces overhead in the short-term — the city should seek to get out of the real estate business and sell property that has the highest market value first and invest the money into buildings the city must keep, such as Margaret Martin. A local man suggested a pretty interesting, if a little radical, idea the other day about possible use of Margaret Martin — make it a municipal complex for the City of Natchez.

It’s not a bad idea — if the city were to rid itself of other, more marketable property in the process. The facility may have room to house all city offices and consolidate them into one central — and historical — location.

The current Natchez City Hall, which is adjacent to the Adams County Courthouse, would make for a good option for much-needed offices for Adams County’s government. And the auditorium portion of the building could still be used for public performances.

The city could move all city offices currently housed in City Hall, the police department and even seek to have the Natchez Water Works (which functions separately from the city) to relocate to the building and liquidate their current buildings, reducing the total footprint of city government and the cost of overhead.

A citizen could then conduct virtually all city government business in a single location.

Of course, whatever Margaret Martin’s ultimate use, its history and architectural significance should ensure the building is repurposed — and soon.

Super cars should be driven, and landmark buildings should be used.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.