July 31, 2014 9:55:15 AM
Funding at the state level is going to make up for a grant the city lost last year for renovating the Columbus City Hall.
State legislators approved a bill during their session earlier this year that issues general obligation bonds for making improvements to facilities at universities, community colleges and small municipalities. Part of the bond issue includes $5 million for the Mississippi Community Heritage Preservation Grant fund. Of that, $475,000 is to be allocated and disbursed as grant funds to Columbus to pay repair costs for Columbus' historic building.
The city applied for a grant through Mississippi Department of Archives and History's Community Heritage Preservation Grant program last year but was turned down after a mathematical error was found in the application.
Mississippi Rep. Jeff Smith (R-Columbus), chair of the House's Ways and Means Committee, said the bonds are in the process of being sold and Columbus will likely receive the $475,000 allocated in the bill later this summer.
The MDAH is also offering $100,000 of unused grant money to aid in the renovations.
"MDAH...came up with $100,000 of some left-over money and asked me if I would approve it," Smith said. "In January, we filed legislation and in the early spring, it was approved in the bond bill."
In the meantime, design for the entire planned renovation is under way. The $575,000 will be used to pay LPK Architects of Meridian, who was chosen to oversee the restoration project before the grant was lost. The plan is to do the renovation in phases, the first of which is exterior improvements. Robyn Eastman of city project managing firm J5 Broaddus said that will include an updated ramp leading up to the building for the disabled, new doors and windows and underground relocation of utilities as well as pressure washing. Interior improvements will be done when the city can acquire more grant money, he said.
"We're going to use a little over $100,000 to have the complete design done and then do the project in phases," Eastman said. "The plan is we'll have enough money to do complete design of interior and exterior improvements, even though we may not get the complete funding until four years from now. The plan is to continue to apply for MDAH grants to do (future phases)."
Eastman said the city hopes to bid on the first phase in September and award it in October. The renovation design will be completed between now and then. LPK staff was surveying the building and taking measurements on Monday.
Also included in the general obligation bond bill, which was sent to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant as House Bill 787, was funds for a new Center for Manufacturing Technology Excellence for East Mississippi Community College. Between this year and 2015, the state is to commit an estimated $18 million toward the new facility, called 'Communiversity' by EMCC officials.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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