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Projects Aplenty As Southern Miss Rebounds From Storm

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Release date: 
June 23, 2009
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BILOXI, Miss. -- Hurricane Katrina interrupted classes at the Gulf Park campus of the University of Southern Mississippi but not for long.

The school, which sustained millions of dollars in storm damages, was temporarily relocated to a building at the former site of the Garden Park Hospital in Gulfport. 

"We resumed classes six weeks after the storm," said Bryan Billings, USM's director of project planning, contracts management and emergency preparedness.

Faculty worked from home for months while students barely missed a beat in their education plans; they managed to finish up the semester and graduate on time.

Today, with more than $26 million in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, USM is renovating its beachside Gulf Park campus in Long Beach while holding classes at both locations.  Enrollment holds at pre-Katrina levels of about 2,700 students.

"The Advanced Education Center reopened in fall 2007 and the library in 2008," Billings said. "While classes have returned to Gulf Park, some are still at the former hospital site."

It's tight quarters at the old hospital facility, a project of the USM Research Foundation before Katrina. With 78,000 square feet, it's less than a third of the square footage of the Gulf Park campus.

But more projects continue through the pipeline at the beach side campus as it comes back to its old life.

Elizabeth Hall, originally a dormitory for Gulf Park College for Women, will be renovated to house offices of the College of Arts and Letters. Hardy Hall will be restored to its original use with administrative offices, dining facilities and a bookstore. Both buildings will remain the same in appearance but will undergo extensive changes on the first floor of each where flooding damage was greatest.  Completion of renovations is expected by fall 2011.

J.L. Scott Marine Education Center at Point Cadet moved to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their facility in Biloxi. GCRL, also heavily damaged, and the Marine Education Center will be rebuilt with federal and state grants during the next two years.

"Katrina didn't dampen the enthusiasm of students, faculty or administration for the Gulf Park campus," said MEMA Director Mike Womack. "And it continues to play a vital part in Coast life."

USM's Long Beach location opened as the Gulf Park College for Women in 1921. It was damaged by Hurricane Camille in 1969 and held its last commencement in 1971.  University of Southern Mississippi acquired the campus in 1972.

Billings has been with the university about 13 years. Emergency management was added to his list of duties only since Katrina.

"But our preparedness plans to minimize storm effects were detailed before Hurricane Katrina," Billings said. "We also had a COOP, a continuity of operations plan, in place to organize us afterward."

USM's faculty, staff and students might call the COOP plan ... smooth operations.

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