After the vandals Hurled rocks denting SCHC budget

Published 12:10 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Heidi Chausse arrived at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center to teach karate classes one afternoon this month, shards of glass from a window broken by rock-hurling vandals lay among the mats where barefoot students practice kicks and chops.

The police were called. Class was canceled. “We didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” said Chausse, whose business, Vicksburg Tang Soo Do Karate, has leased space at the SCHC for about five years.

Annette Kirklin, executive director of the foundation that owns the center, said the vandalism was a particularly annoying example of an ongoing problem at the complex, which consists of the buildings bounded by Adams, Cherry, Clay and Crawford streets that once housed St. Francis Xavier Convent and Academy.

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Since 2008, the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation has spent about $860 repairing glass and Plexiglass windows broken or otherwise damaged by rocks, Kirklin said. She estimates about 30 windows have had to be repaired. The money to repair or replace them is diverted from an annual budget of about $200,000 funded by national, state and local grants, as well as dues from individual and corporate members.

“For us, that’s painful,” Kirklin said.

And, she said, the problem has intensified over the past year. Since last August, the center has notified Vicksburg police eight times about individual incidents of vandalism, according to Kirklin and copies of police reports documenting the center’s complaints. All but one of the reports are from July or August — months when area schools are out.

Kirklin said neighbors of the center have dialed 911 after seeing youths throwing rocks at the center.

In a recent 911 call, the neighbors “described everything from the shirts that (the vandals) had on to the underwear that they were showing,” Kirklin said. “I mean, what else can you do?”

Last week, Kirklin said, she urged Police Chief Walter Armstrong to step up patrols around Adams and Clay streets, where a patch of rocks across from the northern side of the complex offers an arsenal to would-be vandals.

She also said she’s mulling the possibility of installing borrowed security cameras on the SCHC’s premises, as long as the center’s insurance carrier provides assurances that damages to the equipment will be covered.

Armstrong said police are stepping up patrols.

“Of course, Clay Street is a main thoroughfare, so we’re patrolling through there frequently anyway,” Armstrong said.

“We don’t have anyone posted at the particular, but I have asked for more attention to be paid to” the SCHC itself, he said.

Armstrong said the problem is one that defies easy prevention.

Meanwhile, Chausse said she and husband, Bill, have no plans to let the vandalism run them off.

The SCHC is “a good location,” Chausse said.

“And I’m really not afraid that a rock is going to come flying through our windows in the middle of a class,” she said.