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Dr. Bev Norment touts future of Riley Center

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
July 8, 2002
Dr. Bev Norment says progress is being made on the new multimillion dollar Riley Education and Performing Arts Center that will be in the heart of downtown Meridian.
The project will include renovating the old Marks Rothenburg building and the Grand Opera House.
Norment, dean of Mississippi State University-Meridian, said he expects construction on the building to begin some time in the fall of 2003. He discussed the project with The Meridian Star editorial board.
The Meridian Star: Where do you currently stand with contributions? Have you met your goal of raising $5 million yet?
Bev Norment: We're right now at a point of $800,000 shy of our $5 million mark. We are still continuing to work towards that goal and there's certainly an opportunity for individuals not just in Lauderdale County but in all of East Central Mississippi and beyond to make an investment in their community. The endowment is something that will be there in perpetuity. Only the interest that is earned off of the $5 million endowment will be used. The principal will not be touched.
That's the one element that we haven't yet completed, but we feel confident we will meet that goal and in all probability exceed our mark. But we are still working.
The Star: Do you still expect to start construction in the fall of 2003 as originally planned?
Norment: As far as the real construction part of the building, right now we're looking to having bid documents and get through our study phase sometime late next summer or into the fall. And we still anticipate construction to begin some time in fall 2003.
The architects are projecting a construction period of 15 to 18 months. With that, we're still on time for completion by mid-2005 and ready for opening in the fall of 2005. That's all unless there's something unforeseen down the road.
It's still hard to foresee any surprises because you're dealing with a building that's over 110-years-old.
The Star: So right now you're still in the design and engineering stage?
Norment: Yes. We anticipate capacity at the Opera House to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 900 to 1,000 folks. So you've got to have,
according to code, certain exits to facilitate that. So that's a lot of what's ongoing right now, determining some of those very basic service needs for both (the Marks Rothenburg and Opera House) buildings.
In the context of the study of the buildings, our structural engineers have done preliminary surveys and we've also had life safety experts that are studying for things like fire hazards. And we've already gotten preliminary reports from them.
This is a lengthy process. Structural engineers are important because in terms of dealing with buildings that are more than 110-years-old, that's extremely important to determine the structural integrity of the buildings. That's what we're doing now and they'll come back later this summer to do some more detailed studies. Again, it's extremely important during the design phase that these detailed studies be done.
And these are thorough studies. Our architects are being extremely careful in their studies.
The Star: When you're dealing with something that is as lengthy a process as the development and renovation of these two buildings, do you ever worry that the residents will loose interest in the project because they can't see the progress that's being made on a daily basis?
Norment: It's something that people expect a lot to happen at once. And there is a lot that's happening now but it's just not visible. Folks have to be patient with that. It's not like we've just got a piece of ground and we're out here bringing in dozers and starting new construction.
When you're dealing with two old buildings like this, it just requires a lot of intense study of the buildings first off. But construction will come.
And there will eventually come a point very soon where touring the building will become an impossibility because of some of the studies going on inside and outside of the building.
We're excited about it. It's getting more complex by the day. The end result will be something that everyone will be proud to see. It will be something that will be vibrant and alive in the community and something in which everyone can see and go in. Many people in this area have always passed by the Opera House but have never been inside to see all it has to offer.
It will give those people a chance to see the vision our forefathers of Meridian and Lauderdale County in the late 1800s had for this place. It will have national interest.

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