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Arts school gets major contribution

Citizens and community officials turned out Saturday to welcomehome a former Brookhavenite who brought with him a majorcontribution to the Mississippi School of the Arts.

Speaking at Lampton Auditorium, Richard “Dicky” Scruggs jokedabout his “delinquent” days in Brookhaven before moving toPascagoula at age 13. He also praised the cooperative spirit thathas seen the state fine arts school progress to its currentstage.

“This project is bound to succeed,” Scruggs told the audience ofclose to 100.

A $500,000 pledge from Scruggs, well-known for his role in thestate’s litigation against the tobacco industry, is the first majorcontribution to the Foundation for the Mississippi School of theArts.

“I’ll give more than that,” Scruggs said later, indicating thathe planned to follow how other foundation contributions comein.

Scruggs said Mississippi has many talented people who havesucceeded. He said there are other talented individuals who havenot been encouraged, and he looked for the school to addressthat.

“This school is ideal for encouraging the development oftalent,” Scruggs said while also complimenting efforts to restorethe Whitworth campus as the school’s home. “It will be a greatatmosphere for the students.”

Former First Lady Pat Fordice, credited with having the “truevision” and suggesting Whitworth as the arts school campus, wasalso on hand for Saturday’s ceremony. She was impressed with theprogress made since her suggestion over two years ago.

“You are a great community, and it’s amazing what you havedone,” Fordice said.

State Sen. Mike Chaney, of Vicksburg, praised the school for thedifference it will make in the lives of children. Brookhaven wasamong a number of cities that Fordice suggested as an arts schoolsite, but Brookhaven was the community that acted, the senatorsaid.

“Brookhaven did not drop the ball,” said Chaney, who as a staterepresentative led the floor debate that got the arts schoolapproved during last year’s legislative session.

The school is scheduled to open in August of 2002 with 60students and have 300 in the 2005 school year. However, staterevenue and budget concerns have cast a cloud over the school’stimetable.

Chaney said some aspects may have to be delayed a year, but hepromised continued support from the state.

“It is a viable project,” Chaney said. “It’s somethingMississippi desperately needs.”

Chaney said decisions on about $20 million in state bonds haveto be made. Those decisions, he said, will be based on theeconomy.

Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, director of the school, gave a recap ofavailable state funding and funds needed in the future.

Available already is $11.4 million for Phase One, which includesrestoration work going on now and construction of the student lifecenter and the first part of dormitories. Phase Two, scheduled forAugust 2001 to August 2002, includes additional site and buildingwork and totals $6.5 million.

“This is the total we need to open the Mississippi School of theArts in 2002,” Bodenhamer said.

Phase Three, estimated at $17 million, includes additional dormconstruction and work to other campus buildings. Phase Four,construction of a $17 million Performing Arts Center, is a “dream,”Bodenhamer said, and private funding will be needed to make it areality.

Although arts school students will live on campus, Bodenhamersaid additional “day students” will be accepted as schedules andspace allows. Another aspect of the campus improvements, as thebudget allows, includes emblems of all 82 state counties posted onfence pillars around the campus.

“We want to emphasize this is a state school and not just alocal school,” Bodenhamer said.

Mayor Bill Godbold said Whitworth campus improvements were justone of a number of activities under way in Brookhaven.

“You can see the progress the city of Brookhaven is goingthrough,” Godbold said, mentioning a new armory, highway patrolstation, intermodal facility plans and chamber efforts to attractindustries. “We are really going through a transformation.”

Godbold touted the success in restoring Lampton Auditorium andsaid the rest of the Whitworth buildings will eventually look asgood.

“They may look bad now, but they’re going to look good lateron,” Godbold said.