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Historic buildings get $500K grants

NATCHEZ — The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded nearly $3 million in grants during a special meeting Friday, more than $500,000 of which is earmarked for historic properties in Natchez.

Temple B’Nai Israel has been approved for $286,384 for upgrades to the electrical system and fire suppression and the Natchez Institute — which houses the Historic Natchez Foundation — has been approved for $243,375 for roof replacement, window restoration and cornice repair, MDAH officials said.

The grants were awarded on behalf of the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program, which is authorized and funded by the Mississippi Legislature and helps preserve and restore historic courthouses, schools and other historic properties.

Grant awards are paid only to eligible municipalities, school districts and non-profit organizations on a reimbursable basis after whole projects or pre-established phases of projects are completed, MDAH officials said.

Historic Natchez Foundation Executive Director, Carter Burns said the application process is very competitive and even more so this year after funding wasn’t available for the last several years.

“We’re extremely thrilled to receive this grant and thankful to Archives and History for providing it,” Burns said. “We are equally thrilled for Temple B’Nai as well. … We are a partner with them and help manage the temple as a local partner on the scene and oversee their construction.”

Burns said the Natchez Institute was severely damaged during a 1998 storm and the current roof on the building was placed that year.

“This roof is now more than 20 years old and has a lot of leaking areas, so replacing it is going to be a huge improvement for us,” Burns said. “… The cornice was another part of the building that was damaged in that storm and thanks to this grant we’ll finally have the rest of those damages repaired.”

Burns said the building also has 157 windows that require regular maintenance, including repair, painting and re-glazing.

Last year, the basement of the building was fully renovated for historical document and artifact storage as well as for storing court and municipal records. Each of the new jobs funded by the grant would allow the Historic Natchez Foundation to keep those documents safe from weather, Burns said.

The jobs funded for Temple B’Nai Israel, which is owned by the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, are part of a larger restorative project, said Nora Katz, ISJL’s director of heritage and interpretation.

With a dwindling congregation, Katz said ISJL hopes to make the temple more available to the wider Natchez community as a gathering space for public events.

The type of grant was used to build a handicap ramp as the first phase of that project, which was finished last year.

“We applied for this grant to fund the most significant steps in that process, which is replacing the electrical and mechanical systems in the building and installing a fire suppression system,” Katz said.

The original temple that was built in 1872 burned down in 1903 during what historians believe to be an electrical fire, Katz said.

The existing building, built in 1904, still has an outdated electrical system, Katz said.

“Knowing that our overarching goal is to make the temple a gathering space for the City of Natchez, we know replacing the electrical system is going to be a huge part of making that happen,” she said.

The electrical updates will allow the temple to have an effective sound system as well as make way for other mechanical upgrades to air conditioning and utilities, Katz said.

“We’re so appreciative of all of our supporters in the City of Natchez, especially the Historic Natchez Foundation. Much of this is owed to their support of us,” Katz said. “… We will be having many more events at the temple in the near future and we hope that the people of Natchez will continue to be a part of them and support us.”

Since its conception, the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program has allowed the department to award more than $37 million to 300 projects, MDAH officials said.

“The Legislature has saved hundreds of significant Mississippi properties through this program,” said MDAH director Katie Blount. “The Department of Archives and History is grateful for the Legislature’s support and pleased to be able to help preserve these local treasures.”