Sunday Focus: Which city buildings need repairs, maintenance?
NATCHEZ — Natchez is home to a lot of old structures that need a lot of love and maintenance, and city-owned public properties are no exception.
Natchez officials recently discussed an avenue for funding a new roof on City Hall after a lot of deliberation whether the project is a top priority over other dilapidated, city-owned buildings.
Weighing the costs
During a finance meeting two weeks ago, Community Development Director James Johnston recommended the city apply for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Community Heritage grant program to replace the roof on City Hall.
Completely replacing the roof costs an estimated $240,800, Johnston said, adding the grant requires a minimum match of 20% of the project cost.
However, Johnston recommended the city contribute between 30% and 40%, adding the higher the contribution the more likely the project would be approved for funding.
After some discussion during the meeting, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said the Board of Aldermen had not reached a decision on the match but authorized Johnston to begin the application process for the grant.
Grennell said the board could reach a final decision for the grant at the next board meeting Tuesday.
Johnston said the application is due in September and funding could be received in 2020 if the project is approved.
The Natchez Board of Aldermen previously considered the MDAH grant program for funding an expansion of the Natchez Museum of African American Culture.
The expansion would’ve included finishing out the basement of the old post office that houses the museum.
However, during the finance meeting two weeks ago, Johnston said the project — which was estimated to cost between $700,000 and $800,000 — would ultimately cost too much to be eligible for funding and was thrown out.
A site visit to the museum revealed expensive plumbing, electrical and asbestos work are all needed to open the basement, Johnston said.
Meanwhile, Natchez City Hall is also in dire need of a new roof, Johnston said, and would qualify for the grant as well since the building is classified as a historic landmark.
“Our roofing system is in dire need,” Johnston said. “… This is a publically owned property … this is a landmark property … and as people well know, the building does provide tremendous public benefits to the people of Natchez and Adams County. Replacing the old, worn, many times patched roof would be a complete project. The need exists to replace the roof system and it is the highest of three need categories listed in the grant program guidelines.”
The last patchwork for the roof was completed in 2015, Johnston said while showing photographs taken by drone of wear and tear on the roof which caused numerous leaks in the building.
Other possible projects were discussed during the meeting before the Board of Aldermen agreed to pursue the grant for City Hall, particularly the historic Angelety House on St. Catherine Street, which is leased by the city to the Southwest Mississippi chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.
“I have no problem with funding City Hall,” Alderman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said during the meeting, “but I do remember when this grant came up we talked about the Angelety House. If we couldn’t fund the museum, how did we jump over that project to City Hall?”
Johnston said the Angelety House had several cosmetic and structural needs, adding a priority list of repairs could be decided on first and included in the next fiscal year’s budget.
“We need to prioritize,” Johnston said. “I’m not saying that the work doesn’t need to be done at the Angelety House, but we have an occupied building here that needs work. I know because my office is in that building and having work files being rained on is a huge inconvenience.”
Aldermen Dan Dillard said the disrepair of the roof could result in residual damage in the building’s interior, making it a higher priority.
“Knowing the issues that surround City Hall, it’s more than just this roof,” Dillard said. “… When there’s a bad roof, all of the interior structures … will deteriorate at a much faster rate. I would highly recommend the board consider this project.”
More areas of concern
Grennell said he agreed the roof is the priority over other projects at this point, adding more areas in the city need work.
Two areas that concern him, Grennell said, are the youth center in North Natchez Park — which is leased as an event venue for weddings and birthdays and used for youth programs in the summer — and the restrooms in the Golf Pro Shop in Duncan Park.
Grennell said the youth center, also called the “red house” needs both structural repairs and aesthetic fixes, while the bathrooms in Duncan Park need to be redone.
“The way I look at it is we need to prioritize, and a roof on City Hall is a priority,” Grennell said. “There are other places that need work, but we have to take care of home first. If we don’t do it now, we are still going to have to fix it at some point. We might as well go ahead and do it while the funding resources are available.”
What is budgeted
Grennell said approximately 1.1 mils of taxpayer dollars are allocated toward the city’s public properties budget, which covers some maintenance expenses such as repairing air conditioning units or leaks.
The city’s building inspector Jody Rutter regularly checks in on city properties to identify problems on city properties as the occur, Grennell said.
However, some issues — such as an aged and leaking roof — are not as easily fixed without help from other funding sources, Grennell said.
“We can’t just throw our entire maintenance budget into a new roof and then ride out the rest of the fiscal year without those funds,” Grennell said. “We wouldn’t be able to provide general maintenance for the year if the entire budget was expended. … When it comes to something like a roof on a building, that’s something that we need to seek additional funding for.”