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BLT pursuing funds to restore building

Volunteers and city officials are working together to get TheHaven declared an historic property in order to help preserve thebuilding that a downtown fixture since at least the 1950s.

Sha Walker, vice president of the Brookhaven Little Theatre,which owns The Haven, said he is working with city officialsregarding the process of adopting a preservation ordinance andBrookhaven pursuing Certified Local Government status. Theordinance would identify certain downtown properties, including TheHaven, for preservation and establish a historic preservationcommission.

At Tuesday’s city board meeting, after getting a positive responsefrom aldermen, Mayor Bob Massengill agreed to contact otherCertified Local Government Communities in the state to gauge theiropinions. Once that is done, officials planned to hold a meetingwith a representative from the Mississippi Department of Archivesand History to discuss the possibilities further.

“This will be one more step towards revitalizing a portion, if notall, of downtown,”the mayor said.

Once Brookhaven achieves Certified Local Government status, and TheHaven is listed as a Mississippi landmark, whole new avenues offederal and state funding open up for BLT to pursue in its effortsto preserve the building, Walker said.

“We hope this will re-ignite the community and local businesses tohelp us,” he said.

Committee members have targeted the Community Heritage PreservationGrant Program through the Mississippi Department of Archives andHistory as their first goal, he said. The program offers 80 percentgrants with 20 percent in local matching funds for properties otherthan courthouses and school buildings.

“It is very competitive,” Walker said. “They estimate there will beover 75 applications totaling more than $20 million.”

The program has $4 million available annually. Of that, $1.75million is earmarked for efforts to preserve courthouses and schoolbuildings, with the remainder available for other projects.

Walker said BLT committee members believe their chances are goodbecause they continue to use the building. The Haven is home toseveral BLT productions a year and a drama camp for children duringthe summer.

In addition, he said, a lot of work has already been done in thepast two years to preserve the structure. The facade and airconditioning units have been replaced and a plan has been developedto renovate or replace the marquee.

“We’ve been hesitant to do further interior work until we could dothe exterior because otherwise we may have to redo some of thatwork,” Walker said. “We have to improve the outside of the buildingbefore we can anything.”

Johnny Hamlin, an architect with Albert and Associates ofHattiesburg, documented The Haven in photographs and measurementsWednesday to identify needed improvements, estimate costs andestablish priorities.

Repairs to the roof and the electrical system are primary concerns,Walker said, but other structural improvements also need to bemade.

Donations to the Save The Haven program would be welcomed, Walkersaid. Donations may be made by calling President Joanna Sproles at835-2591 or Walker at 835-5589.