PRCC to end masonry program

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2018

After 45 years, the block, brick and stone masonry program at Pearl River Community College will shutter.

PRCC President Dr. Adam Breerwood said the decision to close the program was made due to reduced enrollment. Over the past several years, enrollment numbers have dwindled to just five or six students each year. As a result, Breerwood said maintaining the program did not make financial sense.

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In addition, long-time instructor Porter Soley has recently announced he will retire at the end of the year, meaning that PRCC would have to hire a qualified replacement if the program continued.

Breerwood said instead of holding onto a dying program, the college decided to review the possibility of introducing a program based on a craft that is in higher demand, providing students with better opportunities.

Canceling the masonry program will allow the college to save both money and space, so when approval is given to move forward with a new program, there will be fewer obstacles in the way.

“We want to be proactive and reactive,” Breerwood said.

Additionally, Breerwood said the need for masonry has dwindled, with PRCC masonry students in recent years reporting having a difficult time finding a steady job after graduation.

“If the need was there and it was in high demand, we would have continued (the program),” he said.

However, since the announcement was made, several agencies, such as the Mississippi Construction Education Foundation, expressed concern that ending the program will create a deficit in the number of qualified masonry workers in Mississippi.

“Closure of this program will create an immeasurable dent in our state’s economy. At a time when more than 80,000 craft professionals are needed to accommodate the demands of a growing construction industry, we should be building our workforce – not eliminating it,” MCEF president, Mike Barkett, said in a press release. 

Century 21 Eric Enterprises Inc. Broker and owner Eric J. Bradley said the housing market in Pearl River County is experiencing expansion – increasing the need for skilled laborers such as masons.

He said as government military spending increases, additional jobs will likely move to Stennis, expanding the need for housing in Pearl River County. Even if those jobs don’t come to the area, Bradley said there has still been an increase in the demand for local construction.

Bradley said having a larger pool of skilled craftsmen leads to a wider range of architectural styles and techniques, without which would lead to less originality,

“I hate to see that happen,” Bradley said.

In the MCEF press release, Soley shared an opinion on the end of PRCC’s masonry program upon his retirement.

“The loss of the program will create a large gap in career programs offered to our students and will negatively impact the output of a quality workforce to meet the increasing demands of the construction industry. That’s especially perplexing in light of the tremendous strides the program has made in recent years,” Soley said in the release.