Miss. colleges still grappling with Katrina repairs

Published 4:55 pm Friday, September 29, 2006

Universities and community colleges in south Mississippi took a huge hit from Hurricane Katrina, suffering damages in excess of $300 million.

Thirteen months after the storm, some facilities have been repaired, while some institutions have been forced to move classes elsewhere.

Most school officials say enrollments are near pre-Katrina levels in some locations.

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Katrina, which struck on Aug. 29, 2005, caused more than $200 million in damage to the University of Southern Mississippi campuses in Hattiesburg and along the Gulf Coast, but classes resumed at all facilities by last Oct. 10.

Since every building on the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach sustained damage, classes were moved to the Gulf Coast Student Services Center behind Memorial Hospital in Gulfport.

Repairs have been made to the business complex, Holloway Complex, physical plant building and shipping and receiving building. The Advanced Education Center and the library have been gutted and are ready to be repaired.

University officials said they hope classes can resume in Long Beach by the fall of 2007.

The university’s Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs received more than $13 million in damage from tidal surge and wind, but many of the buildings have been restored, and classes and research are being conducted in temporary modular buildings.

Plans are under way to rebuild most of the buildings lost in the storm. However, the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center has been relocated to the Gulf Coast Research Lab grounds and likely will not be rebuilt at Biloxi’s Point Cadet because of cost.

Other Southern Miss facilities, including those in Jackson County and at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, received minimal damage and reopened within six weeks after the storm. The university’s administrative offices at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi were heavily damaged, but services resumed last spring.

On Southern Miss’ main campus in Hattiesburg, roofs on 40 buildings were repaired or replaced, and fencing was repaired. Classes began on the campus on Sept. 12, 2005.

Katrina destroyed William Carey University’s historic campus on U.S. 90 in Gulfport.

After the storm, classes were held at churches throughout the city, but school officials have placed 16 modular buildings on the beachfront property for classes and offices.

“Everything is back on our campus,” said Jerry Bracey, dean of the Gulfport campus. “We have offices here, classrooms and computer labs.”

At the beginning of 2005, officials listed the 22-acre property with a real estate agency, saying they wanted to find property north of Interstate 10 on which to build a new campus. The search for that property continues, Bracey said.

University College of Tulane was located in Edgewater Mall in Biloxi when Katrina hit, and like most of the 80 stores there, classrooms and offices at the university sustained wind and water damage.

The mall reopened near Thanksgiving, but Tulane began its six-week fall semester last Oct. 24. Classes are being held on a normal schedule this fall.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sustained $18 million in damage from Katrina at its campuses and centers in Perkinston, Gulfport, Biloxi, Lucedale, Gautier and Long Beach.

Most of the damage occurred at the campus in Stone County.

“The only structures that had to be destroyed were at Perkinston,” college spokesman Bill Snyder said.

Two storage buildings and one classroom building were demolished at the campus, and the roof and gym floor were replaced, as were some bleachers. At the football stadium in Perkinston, the press box has been rebuilt.

Pearl River Community College had more than $50 million in Katrina damage on its Poplarville campus, but within a year, many of the buildings had been repaired.

Workers have replaced or repaired roofs on 27 buildings, and two dormitories have been refurbished.

Katrina’s winds blew the roof off of Moody Hall, which housed the auditorium and offices and classrooms for the Department of Fine Arts and Communications. The building will have to be demolished after the community college reaches a settlement with its insurance company. William Lewis, president of Pearl River Community College, said the school can’t make plans for building a new coliseum and performing arts center.

Katrina also destroyed the Hancock Center in Waveland, but Lewis said the center should be operational in another location within the next 30 days.