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Officials await word on City Hall grant


Columbus federal programs director Travis Jones

Columbus federal programs director Travis Jones



Nathan Gregory



It will likely be December before Columbus officials learn if they will be awarded a grant that would fund renovations to City Hall, but preliminary work is already taking place in anticipation of the grant. 


Director of federal programs Travis Jones applied on the city's behalf in August for a Mississippi Community Heritage Preservation grant through the state's department of finance and administration. If the grant is accepted, the city would pitch in $100,000-- money it has already set aside in this fiscal year's budget -- for improvements to go with federal funding of up to $500,000.  


Robyn Eastman of city project managing firm J5 Broaddus said some funds would need to be allocated toward addressing environmental issues that have emerged. The city recently paid an environmental contractor about $2,800 to inspect the building for asbestos, mold and lead paint. Not all the results are in yet, Eastman said, but one report confirms asbestos in the building's floor tiling, window caulking and pipe insulation. 


Eastman said those results didn't surprise him given the building's age -- it was built in 1903 -- and lack of recent updates. He expects more reports to come in later this week on whether the building has lead paint or mold. 


"We're going to get (the results) submitted to our designer in Meridian and have them include removal of these items during the renovation phase of the project," Eastman said. "The big thing is right now we're identifying what hazards we had so we did not get started on a construction project and then have a contractor identify a problem that would cost a lot of money at that time. We were trying to stay out ahead of that." 


He added it's likely the city could encapsulate -- or install another floor on top of the existing one -- to mitigate the asbestos issue in the tiles. If lead paint is found, which he anticipates, the environmental portion of the renovation project could be more extensive. 


"An accepted mitigation to asbestos floor tile is to encapsulate it by putting a new flooring surface over it. Some of the asbestos we have found is actually in the conference room, where there's currently carpet. We took a sample, went down through the carpet and found the tile down below," he said. "We are probably not going to be as lucky with the lead paint. I suspect we have some lead paint on the walls. We do not have the same luxury of encapsulating that. We're going to have to deal with that, which may mean taking some walls out and rebuilding some walls." 


LPK Architects, a Meridian-based design team partnering with J5 Broaddus, would work with its own professional engineer to determine the safest, most efficient means of correcting the deficiencies, he said. 


"If we were to get into a construction project, we did not have this information in advance and the contractor was working along and all of a sudden said (he had) found some lead paint or found some asbestos that we didn't know about, we were going to end up paying a contractor extended overhead to stop, stand by and wait until we provide them direction," Eastman said. 


City planner Christina Berry said while the department of finance and administration is providing the funding, Columbus' fate is in the hands of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which has been appointed to review all the applications. 


Columbus City Hall is one of the department's 890 designated Mississippi Landmarks.  


While upgrades to the building's exterior, including handicap accessibility, would be done if the funding is obtained, Berry said a majority of the improvements would likely be indoors. 


"Some of the things we were looking at making improvements on were bringing it back to historic character with the windows and the doors and also doing some rearrangements on the inside to make it more community oriented," she said. "It's not set in stone, but that's the concept we want to go forward with."


Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.



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