Every year, The University of Southern Mississippi continues to make strides as an institution of higher learning. When reflecting back over 2013, it has been a year filled with perseverance, transition, transformation and excitement.
Nobody could have imagined that 41 days into the New Year, a rare event would take place that would tremendously impact the faculty, staff, students and the overall view of the university.
“We were preparing to close seven projects by March 1 but on February 10 all of that changed,” said Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management and Planning Chris Crenshaw.
The powerful EF-4 tornado that ripped through campus on Feb. 10 damaged several buildings, destroyed 75 trees and scattered debris across the southern edge of campus.
This event not only led to the delay of projects that were near completion, but it led to a year that was filled with numerous construction projects and building renovations to restore and improve the university.
Although in a time of desperation, the pride and perseverance from faculty, staff and students wouldn’t allow for the university to remain at a low point.
Under the leadership of President Rodney Bennett and the USM Foundation, 3,000 donors helped raise $2 million to aid in university relief efforts. This resulted in construction projects nearing completion and more projects starting in 2014. “Our alumni and friends, along with state funding, have allowed us to move forward at different stages with projects that will continue the transformation of the USM campus,” said USM Foundation Executive Director Shannon Fleming. “Donors to the USM Foundation continue to change the lives of our students through their generosity.”
In regard to tornado-related construction projects, The Landscape and Fence Project was completed and the pre-construction assessments for multiple roofs of buildings on campus were completed on Aug. 2. Repairs for these buildings will begin soon.
The Ogletree Alumni House, which was severely damaged from the tornado, began renovations on Aug. 12. The restoration process will take nearly 14 months to complete. “This area holds such importance for our students, alumni and friends,” Bennett said. “It serves as our visitors’ impression of our campus.”
According to the USM website, The Landscape Restoration and Enhancement Plan, the five-phase project to a create views that highlight campus landmarks, has finished two of its phases.
The Gateway Phase, which allowed for the planting of five mature live oak trees, began May 7 and was completed in June. The Rose Garden Phase, which began in mid-June, consisted of removing obsolete pavement and adding a brick pathway to the center of the garden.
This week, the Lake Byron Phase began with the draining of the lake. Eventually, the shore will be expanded and a donor recognition wall will be built at the end of the lake. “This phase will also feature a new bridge, an attractive bulkhead and an aerating pond fountain,” said Assistant Director of Marketing and Campus Relations Michelle Shinall. “Depending on the weather, targeted completion of this phase will be sometime during the spring of 2014. The other two phases have not yet begun.”
Repairs to the George Hurst building, Marsh Hall and the Mannoni Performing Arts Center are almost finished. “The architectural renovation projects involving all three will be approaching soon,” she added. “Marsh Hall will feature new additions such as an opera and choral rehearsal hall and self-contained practice rooms and the George Hurst building will receive additional graphic design studios.”
The demolition of Elam Arms was completed in August. The repairs to the football stadium scoreboard, press box renovations, resurfacing of the football field and drainage upgrades were completed in August.
With construction projects, the groundbreaking ceremony for Scianna Hall was took place May 10. The new business building is expected to be completed by fall 2014. The demolition of Scott Hall, Van Hall and the East end of Bond Hall was completed, allowing the construction of Century Park South to begin.
On Sept. 6, the Armstrong-Branch Plaza was dedicated in honor of the first two African-American students to enroll at the university. The Landscape and Fence Project was completed this year.
The Track Renovations and Natatorium Fire Restoration will be completed by the end of this year. Projects still in progress include the Electrical Infrastructure Upgrade and the Energy Reduction Retrofits. In the upcoming year, the College of Nursing will take bids with an estimated construction completion date of 2016.
All of the construction projects bring a sense of excitement for the years to come. “For past, current and prospective students, it is a sign that we are truly making an effort in every way to continue rising to the top,” said Student Government Association President Ann Marie Chilcutt. “Our campus is already beautiful, but I cannot wait to see the continual improvement and restoration of the place we know and love within the next five to ten years.”