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Group working on plans to save old Margaret Martin School

 

NATCHEZ — A group of locals who share a common passion for the old Margret Martin School and are concerned about its future in its deteriorating state are working on a plan for saving the city-owned building.

After a recent broken water line proved too expensive for the city to repair, members of the Natchez Festival of Music board agreed that the Mississippi Landmark structure is too valuable to watch it fall apart.

Some of the musical festival volunteers formed a committee to discuss how the building might be saved.

Dan Gibson, who has experience turning antebellum houses into thriving bed and breakfasts, is now working as the project facilitator for a potential renovation of the school into a multi-purpose center that would house arts and cultural museums, educational and enrichment activities and a performance venue for the Natchez Festival of Music and other groups.

When the water leak started, the city’s officials determined that the $60,000 it would take to fix the plumbing was too large of an investment to throw into an empty building, Gibson said.

“I drove out today and thought, from here on out — if no one does something — it just gets worse and worse every day,” he said. “The city has said no, and unless someone … volunteers to do something, the building is going down.”

During a workshop hosted at Gibson’s house Thursday evening, he and handful of committee members discussed their vision for the building that they intend to present to Natchez officials.

Committee member Mary Lessley said she and other members of musical festival have wanted to utilize the building for a multi-purpose center and a home for the music festival for years.

“The broken water line and closing of the building brought this plan to a head,” Lessley said. “There is a large number of people still living in Natchez today who were educated in that building and don’t want to see it fall apart. … A vacant building falls down.”

The committee discussed seeking grants and business endorsements to move the project forward, but not before getting approval from city officials.

“The Department of Archives and History is ready to go with us to meet with the city and provide this proposal,” Gibson said.

The building was constructed in 1927 and served as Natchez High School for many years before eventually being renamed for a long-time educator. Since it ceased being a public school building, the structure has housed many small businesses through the years including a ballet studio, gymnastics studio and the music festival.

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