Controversy over plans puts auditorium renovations on hold

VICKSBURG — Interior renovations to the Southern Cultural Heritage Center auditorium are on hold while the architect and state historians seek common ground on the project’s plans.

Center executive director Annette Kirklin said officials with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History object to some of architect David Clement’s plans for the $196,000 project.

She said the conflict is between keeping the building’s historic perspective and complying with the City of Vicksburg fire code.

“He has submitted alternatives for their consideration,” she said. “We can’t go out for bids on the project until Archives and History approves the plans.”

Kirklin said MDAH is involved because the buildings in the SCHC complex are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Cobb House, the center building, was built in the 1830s; the Sisters of Mercy Convent, in 1868; the auditorium, in 1885; the academy building, in 1937; and the O’Beirne Gymnasium, in 1955.

Funded by a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Economic Development Initiatives Grant, the project includes rewiring the interior, room repairs, replacing the air conditioning and installing a small elevator, Kirklin said.

“It’s going to take all of the $196,000, possibly more, depending on what Archives and History does,” she said.

The interior renovation is one of two projects to improve and restore the auditorium, which is part of the former St. Francis Xavier Academy complex bought by the city in 1994. The deed to the property was transferred to the foundation in 2001.

The auditorium has been the site of foundation programs and events such as the annual Holly Days in December and was the location for one of the final scenes in the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where art Thou?”

Kirklin said the recently completed auditorium repair and stabilization project replaced the building’s roof, improved its exterior and will add a handicap-accessible ramp. It was funded by a $150,000 Archives and History grant and a $38,000 local match. She said $20,797 has been raised toward the matching funds.

Kirklin said the foundation also has spent $1,600 to repair leaks in the roofs on other buildings in the complex, including the convent and the Cobb House.

Formed in 1994, the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation is supported by several sources, Kirklin said.

“We receive money from grants, membership dues, fundraisers, donations, corporate funding, rentals and support from the city and the state,” she said.

She said the foundation has received a $30,000 supplement from the city and $17,800 from the Mississippi Arts Commission.

The Hobbs Freeman Arts and Nature Celebration and Festival, which runs through Nov. 3, is funded by a $24,200 National Park Service’s Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative Grant named for Freeman.

She said the event ends Nov. 3 with a festival at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center, featuring vendors, music, lecturers and storytellers.

“One requirement for the vendors is they will have to demonstrate their crafts at their booths. We want the area to look like Jackson Square in New Orleans,” Kirklin said.

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