2/5/2014 6:00:00 AM No funds for gym repairs, MAP says
By STEVEN THOMAS Staff Reporter
More questions were raised than answered last week when the Mayor and Board of Aldermen met with Mississippi Action for Progress (MAP) officials over their lease of the old Booker T. Washington School and anticipated improvements to the gym.
The city board, along with several other concerned citizens, met with MAP's Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Dorothy Foster, and Center Administrator Patty Curtis.
In 2012, MAP agreed to lease the Booker T. Washington School for 25-years on the stipulation that MAP would pay the city $10,000 a month, an amount that MAP suggested.
Under the agreement, the city could accept "in-kind" work as payment as long as MAP kept the Mayor and Board of Aldermen updated on the work each quarter. This was to include building renovations, utilities, insurance and maintenance.
While MAP has leased the entire facility, the agreement allows Parks and Recreation access to the gym for sporting events.
Prior to the new lease, MAP had used the city-owned building rent free.
Foster told the Mayor and Board of Aldermen that MAP has used the Booker T. School for its Head Start program for years and she hoped to continue for many more.
"Head Start relies on the community," she said, noting that they have 205 kids attending at no cost to parents.
Foster clarified MAP's definition of what "in-kind" work meant in its lease agreement with the city.
She said it meant keeping the facility up to their licensing standards, including maintaining the insurance and health standards.
Foster brought up the condition of the school gym and why MAP hasn't made an effort to repair the run-down building.
Working on the gym, she said, would be done as funds became available. She said MAP would be willing to work with the community.
She said, however, that maintaining a license for the building was a funding priority.
Foster told the Mayor and Board of Aldermen that MAP did not agree to make repairs to the gym.
Johnny Beckwith, a member of the Community in Action and the main advocate for repairing the gym, said he had been led to believe that MAP would repair the gym.
"Is there a record of how much money has been spent [on the gym]?" he asked. "How much is MAP willing to budget to repair the gym?"
Foster responded by pointing out that MAPs funding is provided by the federal government and it is used to meet health regulations and maintain their license.
However that amount is not always consistent and sometimes they do not spend it all in a month, she said.
"We are willing to work with the community," Foster said, "but we can't say we can pledge a certain amount but we will continue to do what we can when funds are available."
She added that since MAP set up shop, many repairs have been made to the facility.
"If funds are available we will work on repairs but we can't say we can do 'X' amount of work," she said.
One attendee then asked if MAP didn't consider the gym as a part of the facility.
Curtis, the center administrator, said that children can't use the gym due to their license.
"We are not allowed to use the gym so the kids don't go into it," she said.
Foster reiterated that they weren't against looking at repairing the gym but they didn't have money set aside to work on it.
Neshoba County Parks and Recreation Director Chris Burt said that the prevailing thought was that MAP would put $10,000 into the building each month and that most believed it would go towards repairs.
Foster restated the position that MAP, at this point, didn't have the funds to put into repairing the gym.
Beckwith again asked why MAP couldn't spend a little on the gym.
Foster said they would be willing to look at their position but that currently no funds were available.
"We would like to take a comprehensive look at our needs," she said.
Despite the issues over the lease, many expressed happiness over MAP's Head Start program.
Shaun Seales said that without MAP's presence the Booker T. School would have became a condemned building.
"Please don't leave thinking we're ungrateful," he said.
Mayor James Young agreed with Seales, also thanking MAP for the work they've done on educating the children of the community.