Smithville ponders its future

By Rex Wilgus/Monroe Journal

SMITHVILLE – A public meeting was held in Smithville on Jan. 26 during which Smithville Mayor Gregg Kennedy gave a “state of the town” update and Monroe County School District Supervisor Scott Cantrell discussed the future of Smithville schools.

The meeting was held at the Smithville Baptist Church.

Mayor Kennedy acknowledged that progress on rebuilding had been slow. Even so, progress is being made. “The sewer project is complete,” he said, noting what a huge accomplishment that was. Progress was also being made on the little league field; Kennedy said he would ask the board to award the bid for the concession stand project to Hathaway Electric and Construction, which was the low bidder at $429,000. “We’re going to have little league back for summer,” Kennedy said.

He added they were expecting plans for the new city hall building, which would include the police department.

“We’re going to a MEMA grant for that so that it will be hardened against a tornado,” Kennedy said. “We haven’t started yet because we need to get all our funding sources ready. We’re getting grants. We debating replacement costs with the insurance company.”

He said Smithville’s largest employer, Town House, had too many orders to shut down for a week to relocate to Smithville in January, and was planned, and will move in late April or early May. “They’re bringing back 80 jobs. Pretty soon they’ll go up to 140 jobs.”

He said the Keep America Beautiful committee has decided to take on Smithville for the next three years as a showcase project. They will build permanent Welcome to Smithville signs with corporate sponsorship, among other things.

He added that the MS Blues Trail might possibly include Smithville as the birthplace of Red Brasfield. “That would put us on the map.”

Monroe County School District Superintendent Scott Cantrell discussed the Section 106 process, which is contentious issue of some buildings at Smithville school being declared historical landmarks, which many residents do not want. If they are declared landmarks, they cannot be demolished and rebuilt. Cantrell discussed the many entities involved, both state and federal, including the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the State Historic Preservation Office. A period of 21 days for public comment will be held so that residents can tell officials what they want – and don’t want.

Cantrell said August 2013 was their projected date to have the new campus completed, which could possibly include a dome gymnasium, which can withstand 300 mph winds.

“Nothing has been on the front burner more than working to rebuild Smithville school,” Cantrell told the audience. “We’re trying to do what’s best in the long run, but that takes time. There are lots of loop holes and processes we have to go through.”

Projects completed include the high school re-roof, HVAC installation, re-roofing on the cafeteria and science lab, and completion of the athletic field.

Bids will be taken for the Ag shop and the gym, among other things.

Phase 2 of the repairs on the high school buildings would include repairs to the tech building, Cantrell said.

“We’ll wait for the Section 106 process to run its course,” Cantrell said. “In the meantime, the kids are being taken care of in the temporary campus. Sometimes waiting pays off in the end.”

Senator Hob Bryan, who attended the meeting, addressed the audience on concerns over the Section 106 process. “After Hurricane Katrina,” he said, “the desire was to tear everything down, but they did not. And now folks are glad they didn’t.”

Bryan remained neutral on the matter, pointing out that while the Section 106 process was frustrating to residents, the town’s best interests were being considered. “They may be misguided, but they care,” Bryan said. “They’re good people.”

Smithville will hold a Comprehensive Plan Workshop on Feb. 8 and 9 at the Temporary Police Department, 60001 Franklin St. A Community Assessment Survey will be conducted March 8. Call 651-4411 for more.

Click video to hear audio