School merger could be costly

Published 6:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2009

MUW facilities need work

to accept MSA students

State taxpayers would have to pay for renovations and repairs atthe Mississippi University for Women this summer if the Legislaturedecides to relocate the Mississippi School of the Arts to thatcampus, an MUW official said.

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Nora Miller, vice president for finance and administration atthe W, said her institution has unused dormitory and classroomspace available for a possible relocation of MSA students, butthose facilities are unused and need work before being able toaccommodate 120 students by Aug. 1.

“We’d have to have some things done,” she said. “MUW doesn’thave the money for it.”

House Bill 1555, which seeks to close the MSA campus inBrookhaven and merge it with the Mississippi School for Mathematicsand Science at the W’s campus in Columbus, does not address theneed for facilities or how the relocation would be paid for. Millersaid school officials have had little contact from the bill’sauthors – House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Cecil Brown,D-Jackson, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. JohnnyStringer, D-Montrose – or the Mississippi Department ofEducation.

“We haven’t been really consulted other than we got a callsaying if it were moved there, do you have room,” Miller said.”Sure, as long as some funds come with it.”

Miller said the W has two vacant residence halls and emptyclassroom space last used as an elementary school, but thefacilities are not up to speed. She said the facilities would needrenovating and updating to replace old wiring, install new airconditioning and replace bathrooms that were “built forthird-graders.” The facilities would also have to be madeInternet-ready with new fiber optic cables, she said, depending onthe needs of the arts students.

An MSA move to the W’s campus would also likely require theconstruction of new performance spaces, Miller said. She said the Whas several performance venues used by its students, and she doesnot know if MSA students would require a dedicated venue for theirexclusive use.

Miller said she could not estimate the extent of renovationsthat would be needed – or the cost of such renovations – withouthearing from MSA officials.

“I can’t say. We don’t know what their needs are,” she said.

Brookhaven officials are optimistic HB 1555 will be defeated inthe House Appropriations Committee, but local leaders are preparingto fight it just in case.

Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop was in JacksonThursday morning for a meeting of the Mississippi Chancery ClerksAssociation’s Legislative Committee. After that meeting, he plannedto roam the Capitol in search of the House Appropriations andEducation committee members to lobby for Brookhaven’s cause.

“I’m just going to stay there all day and find as manylegislators as I can on those two committees, talk to them and givethem as much information as I can,” he said.

Bishop said he would travel with a list of talking pointsprepared by city leaders that make the case for leaving MSA inBrookhaven. The most basic of those, he said, is “basic dollars andsense.”

“We’ve got a seven-story building over there on a campus thathas required millions of state tax dollars,” he said. “Just to moveit does not make fiscal sense. I know the governor has made thestatement that he’s in support of maintaining and growing SouthwestMississippi, and this (the arts school, if moved) would not be partof it.”

Bishop also mentioned the wide range of support for MSA alreadyin place in Brookhaven, including more than 100 host parents forout-of-town students. He added that the school is a good fit forBrookhaven, which has a history of art.

He also raised concerns over sending high school juniors andseniors to share a campus with adult college students in Columbuswhere – unlike Brookhaven – alcohol is sold.

“If I’m a parent and I’m sending my child to a school of thearts, I had rather not send them to a place where there’s collegestudents if my 15-year-old girl is attending high school,” Bishopsaid.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Executive VicePresident Cliff Brumfield said local officials would approachlawmakers from a standpoint of “truth and reality.”

“The relocation of MSA from Brookhaven to Columbus would resultin the loss of some 55 jobs, which would be in direct contrast withthe spirit of many people’s efforts to help us grow our area,” hesaid. “Those dollars would no longer circulate in our economy.”