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Officials praise progress at arts school

Community officials hailed progress of the Mississippi School ofthe Arts and stressed the importance of developing a new industrialpark Monday during a quarterly meeting of city, county and chamberof commerce leaders.

Mentioning years of frustration and failed efforts to addressthe deteriorating Whitworth College buildings, Chancery ClerkTillmon Bishop marveled at the rebirth of the campus that is hometo MSA. He applauded city, county and chamber efforts in support ofthe school.

“It’s almost unbelievable what’s happening over there,” saidBishop during Monday’s Community Elected Officials meeting.

The arts school survived several “close calls” over funding andother issues during the 2003 legislative session, said District 39Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. In the end, though, over $3 million wasallocated to equip the school and allow it to open in August asscheduled.

“It was a pretty good session,” Hyde-Smith said. “Lincoln Countycame out pretty well.”

Seventy students have accepted an invitation to be part of thefirst MSA class. With students on the way, MSA Executive DirectorDr. Vicki Bodenhamer said staffing is the focus now.

“It’s like someone poured gasoline on an ant bed,” Bodenhamersaid. “That’s how fast we’re working to get the school open.”

Bodenhamer said some staff positions will begin immediatelyafter they are filled. Most, though, will begin July 1.

The director also reported progress on building activity, withthe Student Life Center expected to be completed in a few days. Inother campus activity, Bodenhamer said a perimeter fence, which wasto highlight the state’s 82 counties, will not be built asplanned.

“We put it out to bid, and it was way too expensive,” Bodenhamersaid.

Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson said his department wouldbe working with MSA officials regarding campus security.

“It’ll be a challenge, but we look forward to it,” Hendersonsaid.

INDUSTRIAL PARK

In other updates Monday, 2003 chamber of commerce presidentDavid Phillips brought up planned activity related to a newindustrial park.

“That’s going to be the focus and thrust of the chamber the restof the year,” Phillips said.

Chandler Russ, executive vice-president, said an engineeringstudy had recommended a site west of Brookhaven on 15th and 16thSection land.

“We want to go ahead and start having some public dialogue withthe county and city,” Russ said.

Russ said chamber officials planned to attend the May 19 and May20 county and city board meetings to discuss funding options forthe new park.

“It’s vital and is as pressing as anything that can be done inthe next year…” Russ said. “It’s something that just can’twait.”

RAIL LINE

The potential economic impact of a railroad line closure due toInternational Paper in Natchez shutting down was also mentionedMonday. Russ said discussions had been held with Illinois Centraland Canadian National rail officials, and he was confident railservice would be maintained near the site of the proposed newindustrial park.

“We will be vigilant regarding that railroad,” Russ said.

CITY ISSUES

In city matters, Alderman-at-large Les Bumgarner said plans areunder way to do some downtown paving around the first of thesummer.

“A lot of people are concerned about that,” Bumgarner said.

Regarding the Kids’ Kingdom playground, Bumgarner and Ward 4Alderman Bob Massengill said they would like to set up a meetingwith city board members, playground officials and Corps ofEngineers representatives. The aldermen indicated support for thecity assuming oversight of the playground if flooding problems atthe park off Industrial Park Road could be addressed.

Bumgarner and City Engineer Carl Ray Furr updated officials onprogress of the Multi-Modal Transportation Facility.

Furr said the city has received a total of $4.5 million infederal funds, which must be matched by a 20 percent localcontribution, and engineers are currently pursuing an environmentalstudy on the proposed North Railroad Avenue site. Bumgarner said hesupported the center as long as it will be self-sufficient and nota burden on city taxpayers.

“I think we can do that,” the alderman said.

Furr said work on a airport feasibility study is wrapping up.The study is looking at whether to upgrade the present facility orrelocate it.

“We’ll have that ready for the city in a few weeks,” Furrsaid.

Massengill expressed concerns about declining sales taxcollections. Collections for 2003 are off compared to the samepoint in 2002.

“We really need folks shopping at home,” Massengill said.

COUNTY ISSUES

Road and bridge work was on the minds of county supervisorsMonday. Supervisors mentioned activity to get roads repairedfollowing recent storms and other action in preparation of routinemaintenance.

Furr credited supervisors for their bridge repair efforts anduse of state Local System Bridge Program funds.

“We have done a great job spending every dime we’ve gotten ourhands on,” Furr said.

Furr expressed disappointment that the 2003 legislature did notpass a bill authorizing redistribution of LSBP funds from countiesthat have not used to their allotment of money to counties thathave. District 3 Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson said LSBP hasbeen in effect since the mid-1990s.

“There’s counties in this state that have not used the firstdime,” Williamson said. “It’s not right.”

Due to a tight state budget situation, Furr said state help onlocal road repairs was unlikely. Lobbying hard for more federaldollars to the local level was expected to be discussed during anupcoming county officials’ trip to Washington to meet withcongressional representatives.

District 2 Supervisor Bobby J. Watts praised a cooperativespirit both on the board of supervisors and between city, countyand chamber officials.

“We’re working together and we’re working strong,” Wattssaid.

Chuck Nelms, with the Mississippi Development Authority,expressed appreciation to meeting sponsor Entergy and alsocommented on the results of cooperation among local officials.

“We’ve got more going on positive than any county around us,”Nelms said.