Renovations Move Forward

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It's dark and gloomy inside the building in downtown Meridian and caution signs are posted, but a large crew is hard at work ripping out the old and making room for the new.

Dennis Sankovich, executive director of the Riley Education and Performing Arts Center, described the ongoing project.

"There will be a grand staircase that goes up to the Opera House and elevators that will take you up to all the levels. Each level is handicapped-accessible and then there'll be restrooms for the first floor level and then a large exhibit hall toward the back of the structure," Sankovich said.

The wood floor will be replaced with concrete. As workers tear up the 100-year-old timbers, they've made a few interesting discoveries: a 1911 dime and old bottles obviously left long ago.

The wood is valuable. It's being collected and will be sold. The pillars will eventually be torn out and replaced by steel support structures.

On the east side of the building are two rare marble columns that have been covered and protected, because they will be saved, as well as the archway by which they stand.

Now that work has begun, it will continue until completely finished.

"In the next phase, structural columns and the rest of the floors will be put in," said Sankovich. "And then the next phases from there will be finishing out the rest of the building and the final phase of all the construction, putting in the rooms and all the finishing touches up to our grand opening, which we're planning in December of 2005."

There is a long way to go to that date, but the project is now well underway.