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Officials remain optimistic

With Mississippi lawmakers reacting negatively to a $23 millionfunding request for the Mississippi School of the Arts, somelegislators and local officials are more optimistic that the schoolcan open as planned.

With Mississippi lawmakers reacting negatively to a $23 millionfunding request for the Mississippi School of the Arts, somelegislators and local officials are more optimistic that the schoolcan open as planned.

“We are going full speed ahead with this project,” Dr. VickiBodenhamer, Executive Director of the Brookhaven school, said thismorning. “This is an opportunity for the kids of Mississippi thathas not been available before, so we are going ahead.”

House Appropriations Chairman Charlie Capps, D-Cleveland, wascautiously optimistic this morning, saying “it was too early to beconcerned.” While he did not think the school would be abandoned,he said it might be delayed.

“There does not seem to be opposition to the school, justopposition to the amount of funding,” Capps said. “Private fundingis going to be important for this project.”

Despite a request from the State Department of Education for $23million, Bodenhamer said the immediate funding requirements for theschool are $6.5 million.

“With that money we can open the school as planned in August2002, and can operate with 120 students,” she said.

Bodenhamer explained that the remaining $17 million will beneeded in order for the school to reach its maximum capacity of 300boarding students in 2004.

“It would be cheaper for the state and safer for the students ifwe could build this project all at once,” she said.

With the $6.5 million, the director said the school can buildthe first of two 8-story dormitories and be ready to handle thefirst class of 60 students in 2002 as well as the second class ofstudents in 2003.

Not to confuse the issue, Bodenhamer said of the $6.5 millionneeded, she expects that around $800,000 will come from the city ofBrookhaven from a $1.5 million HUD grant received a few years agofor the campus.

“So actually we only need around $5.7 million,” she said.

A local foundation is being established to help with additionalfunding and two visits have been made in recent weeks to privateeducational trusts seeking funding support for the school.

Brookhaven taxpayers are also helping to fund the projectthrough a $3 million bond issue.