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Arts School highlighted at capital event

JACKSON — The spotlight shined on the Mississippi School of theArts as the chamber of commerce hosted state lawmakers forBrookhaven Day at the Capital activities Tuesday.

More than 180 state, city and county and chamber officials wereon hand for the annual event to promote Brookhaven, Lincoln Countyand local activities.

Officials indicated state help is important in the continuedfuture development of the community.

“In times of belt-tightening, we want to make sure our messageof pro-growth is heard,” Chandler Russ, executive vice-president ofthe Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, told lawmakersduring the luncheon.

During a brief stop at an opening reception,Gov. Ronnie Musgrovesaid it’s good for Brookhaven officials to meet with lawmakers.

“It’s a sign of unity and community purpose,” Musgrove said.

Tuesday’s focus was on the Mississippi School of the Arts, whichis under development on the Whitworth College campus. Involved withthe project virtually from its beginning, Musgrove said the schoolis something he has promoted for a long time.

“It’s time has come, and we’re going to do everything possibleto make it a reality,” Musgrove said.

The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2002 with 60students and a curriculum including theatre, visual arts and vocalmusic. When fully operational, expected in the 2005-06 school year,the school will have approximately 300 students with a curriculumthat also includes dance, literary arts and media arts.

Dr. Vicki Bodenhammer, executive director, updated lawmakers onthe progress at the school.

Coincidentally, the bidding process for first phase of theeight-story Student Life Center began Tuesday. Bodenhammer said theproject must be advertised one more time and then bids could beopened on Feb. 8.

“The Student Life Center will be more than just a dormitory,”Bodenhammer told lawmakers, adding that it will house a library,commons area, exercise facilities, an infirmary, plus areas forresident advisors and dorm parents.

Bodenhammer said today that nine general contractors had pickedup bid documents on the project.

“That’s highly unusual,” she said, adding that a projectnormally attracts interest from three or four general contractors.”There’s not a lot of construction going on, so we should get anexcellent bid on the project.”

After bids are opened and awarded, a notice to proceed isexpected to be issued in April. The first phase of the center is an18-month project.

Bodenhammer told lawmakers that work on a policy board todevelop admissions guidelines, staff and student handbooks andfurther curriculum development is progressing. She praised acooperative spirit between local and state officials in getting theproject to its current status.

“In all of my educational career. . . this is the greatesteducation partnership I’ve ever had the opportunity to participatein,” Bodenhammer said.

Bodenhammer said a continued partnership between the state’seducation and arts community will be needed in the future. She saidthe state has an outstanding cultural history and the school willhelp nurture future artists.

“No one can exceed the quality of art that has come fromMississippi,” Bodenhammer said.

Approximately $6.5 million is needed to allow the school to opennext year.

Dr. Richard Thompson, state superintendent of education, saideducation officials remain very positive. Starting the bid processon the Student Life Center was an important step, he noted.

“We constantly hear from people who are very supportive,”Thompson said. “If there’s any way it can be funded, there’s acommitment there to do that. We’re certainly not discouraged.”

Legislators were impressed with the school plans.

“It’s definitely an asset to the total state, and not justBrookhaven,” said Dist. 69 Rep. Alyce Clarke of Hinds County, whilealso complimenting local officials on their involvement.

Dist. 91 Rep. Joey Hudson, of Monticello, expressed similarthoughts.

“I’m proud of it, and I think it’ll be an asset to Brookhaven,the Brookhaven area and the entire state of Mississippi.”

Russ said Musgrove, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck’s chief of staff, Speakerof the House Tim Ford, House Appropriations Committee ChairmanCharlie Capps and Ways and Means Chairman Billy McCoy were presentfor Brookhaven Day activities. He was pleased to see that level ofinterest from state leaders.

“It was a great success,” Russ said about Brookhaven Day.