Architectural firm awarded emergency contract to assess conditions of Arts Center of Mississippi

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Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 5:42 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Relief could be on the way for the numerous groups that rely on the Arts Center of Mississippi in downtown Jackson.

At a special called meeting Friday, the council approved a professional architectural agreement with Canizaro Cawthon Davis to do an assessment of the facility, which is located at 201 E. Pascagoula St.

The vote comes just months before the International Ballet Competition is slated to take place, and after tenants at the facility were notified that a state of emergency was being declared to speed up potential repairs there.

“The architecture firm... will do an emergency assessment of the arts center and put together some design packages to address issues there and get those out as emergency contracts to get repairs done,” Deputy City Attorney Terry Williamson said. “We are continuing to have issues there. They’ve lingered for a little while and this is probably overdue, but it’s here and we’re moving forward with it.”

According to council documents, the scope of work is currently unknown, so Canizaro Cawthon and Davis will charge the city at hourly rates, including $225 for architect principal, $125 an hour for architectural project manager, $100 for interior designers, $85 an hour for intern architects, and $185 an hour for mechanical/HVAC principals.

Canizaro Cawthon and Davis is charging the city at an hourly rate under terms of a contract to...
Canizaro Cawthon and Davis is charging the city at an hourly rate under terms of a contract to assess the Arts Center of Mississippi. (Special to WLBT)

Council President Ashby Foote said he appreciated the administration’s “swift action,” citing the upcoming IBC. “People come in from all across the country and the world to see this competition at Thalia Mara Hall and this is a big part of that,” he said. “So, it’s necessary and really important to get it up to the specs for that competition.”

The IBC is slated for June 10-24 at Thalia Mara Hall. The event is held every four years in Jackson, according to IBC’s website.

On February 2, Arts Center and Municipal Art Gallery Manager Turner Martin told tenants that the city was declaring a state of emergency regarding the building’s conditions.

“This will address leaks and water damage in the building, air, and heating issues, security, and other necessary building improvements. A contract has been signed and plans are being drawn up to make these repairs over the next few months, with a completion deadline of May 31,” an email from Martin states.

The email outlines other conditions at the facility as well, including issues with the Americans with Disabilities Act restrooms on the first floor, continued issues with heating and cooling, and issues with the building’s exterior doors.

Martin told tenants he hoped to get the first-floor bathrooms repaired prior to the international competition and would know before March if that could be done.

“Thank God for the IBC,” said David Keary, executive director of Ballet Mississippi. “You can’t bring competitors in that building in that kind of condition. But it took that to get them to move and do something.”

Ballet Mississippi is housed on the first floor of the arts center and has studios and office space there. Keary was pleased with the council’s vote, but questions whether any major improvements can be made before the competition gets underway.

“The HVAC went out and it took them a year to find the parts, find the HVAC unit, and have someone install it,” he said. “I don’t know what hung it up, but what it did for us, all of us in the Arts Center is it basically dislocated us.”

Jay Dean, artistic director of Opera Mississippi, said seven arts groups are currently housed at the facility, all of which contribute to the culture, economy, and overall quality of life of the city.

“We are hopeful things are moving in the right direction,” he said. “This is the most positive thing that’s been done in a very long time.”

Dean said the Opera’s office had become unusable as a result of flooding, and that the carpet had to be removed to prevent mold and mildew. The group is now paying someone to paint and seal the concrete floor so the office can be used again.

WLBT first reported on the air conditioning issues at the facility in August 2021, when the executive director of the International Museum of Muslim Cultures told the council she was worried that without it, the extreme heat in the building would damage some 700-year-old African manuscripts on loan to the group.

That same extreme heat - and later extreme cold - forced Ballet Mississippi to temporarily move its classes to its Madison locations.

“We didn’t have any classes going on down there last year because... it was not inhabitable,” he said.

Due to conditions there, Keary says Ballet Mississippi has lost some students. The ballet offers classes at the downtown facility Monday through Thursday. Right now, about 60 students participate.

“You’ve got ceiling tiles that are saturated with water. They need to be pulled down because you’re going to have mold and mildew,” he said. “It’s just unacceptable.”

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