$6 million for Margaret Martin renovations added to bond bill

Published 1:10 am Wednesday, March 20, 2019


NATCHEZ — Funding for the renovation of Margaret Martin School has been added to the state’s general bond bill.

In a sudden turn of events, the Senate unanimously approved an amendment that would add $6 million in bonds for the renovation of the former high school.

The amendment offered by Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, on the Senate floor Tuesday would add the funding to House bill 1674, the state’s multi-million dollar bond bill for capital improvements to universities, government buildings and other public properties.

“I got an amendment adopted this morning,” Dearing said Tuesday afternoon. “It put $6 million in the (Margaret Martin) performing arts center. That’s $2 million a year over the next three years.”

The bill with approved changes returns to the House for approval, before heading to the Gov. Phil Bryant’s for his signature.

Natchez resident Dan Gibson, who has been lobbying for the project and who leads efforts to turn the old school into an arts center, said the bill as approved would release up to $2 million a year for three years for the renovation of the Mississippi Landmark property. All funding would have to be approved and expended by 2023, Gibson said, adding he is hopeful the funds will be approved.

“Being an election year, it is a good time to do this,” Gibson said. “Up until yesterday, we still worried that it would not clear the Senate, but the tide has turned.”

Gibson said he is hopeful the House will concur with the amendment, since representatives had already approved a separate bill, House bill 1695,  for the funds sponsored by Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez. The bill passed the House 104-8 and was waiting for approval in the Senate.

“I really do not see why the House would not concur,” Gibson said.

If the bill passes the House, Gibson said he hopes the governor will support it.

“I hope that in a couple of weeks we will have a bill signing,” Gibson said.

Scott Hawkins, editor of The Natchez Democrat, contributed to this report.