With train depot dry, city officials plan for future

VICKSBURG — When the Mississippi River climbed to historic heights nearly three months ago, it dumped four feet of water into the former railroad depot that became the icon of the city’s tragedy as the story was told across the nation.

Now, with the depot once again high and dry, city officials are hoping work that began on paper 10 years ago can resume in earnest and the anticipated museum and offices will be open in the fall.

“We’re hoping to have the project completed sometime in early October,” said city buildings and inspection director Victor Gray-Lewis, who’s leading the restoration.

The work to turn the 105-year-old former Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Depot into a transportation museum and offices for Vicksburg Main Street and the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau was expected to be completed this summer. The flood, however, forced workers out of the building, delaying completion and damaging the building’s interior and exterior.

The effects of the flood that left water in the depot from early May until mid-June have forced city officials and the contractor to consider supplemental agreements to the $1.535-million contract. City officials are also considering filing a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help with repairing the flood damage.

Gray-Lewis said he expects the mayor and Board of Aldermen to approve the supplemental agreements to the contract.

One agreement involves a request from the contractor for more time to complete the work, which contractor Kenneth R. Thompson Jr. said was set back eight weeks by the flood. The other agreement increases the scope of the contract to include work on flood-damaged items at the depot that were not included in the original contract.

Gray-Lewis said the flood-damaged items include exterior doors, staircases in the building, windows, and interior millwork, which will either have to be repaired or replaced, depending on the damage.

The cost of the extra work is between $23,000 and $24,000, based on the contractor’s estimates, Gray-Lewis said.

“The contractor won’t proceed on that work until the supplemental agreement is signed,” he said.

The depot is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the city has been working with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to ensure the restoration is done correctly, Gray-Lewis said.

“We don’t move forward (on a repair) until they sign off on it,” he said.

Thompson has a $1 million builder’s indemnity policy to cover problems on the job, but he does not know if the policy covers flood damage. He has filed a claim with his insurance company.

If the company refuses Thompson’s claim, Mayor Paul Winfield said, the city will file a claim with FEMA to recover some of the loss.

While Thompson and the city work on the supplemental agreements and await word on the insurance claim, workers are replacing the sheetrock and other building materials and equipment they removed from the depot before the flood inundated the building.

“We cut out the sheetrock and disconnected the air conditioning units and equipment so it could be put back in service when we returned to work,” Thompson said. “We moved items either upstairs in the building or in our lay-down box, which we moved to the top of the hill (near the depot).

“We tried to be proactive. We boarded up where we could and took other action.”

The depot is part of a tourist destination complex that includes the Lower Mississippi River Museum and Interpretive Center, which is being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Catfish Row and its playground and art park.

As the river made its historic climb to 14.1 feet above flood stage to crest at 57.1 feet on May 19, the depot was the backdrop for still and television photographers from across the nation. Shepard Smith of Fox News spent two days on Washington Street overlooking the building; NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN used it; and its image was prolific on internet sites for days.

Vicksburg bought the three-story depot in 2001 for $295,000. The Mississippi Department of Transportation in 2007 awarded the city a $1.65 million grant for the depot museum, and in 2009 allocated $250,000 in stimulus funds for the project.

The stimulus and grant funds have not been released, pending completion of 2008 and 2009 city audits. Winfield said the city is using money from the general fund for the project, adding that MDOT will reimburse the city for the work once the building meets MDOT approval and the audits are complete.

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