USM Gulf Park could have a record enrollment this year. Last August the school enrolled more than 2,700 students. Next month, that number could top 3,000.
This shows how things have changed since Hurricane Katrina swept through the campus and left it in shambles.
"I can honestly say, that the whole campus was pretty much decimated. It was unusable," Associate Provost Dr. Pat Joachim says.
One look around the campus today and you can't help but see the destruction, because there is plenty of it. But you can also see, a lot of potential.
"I would say, you can't change what has happened," Dr. Joachim says. "So, lets take it as an opportunity, and lets make it the best that it can be."
As Associate Provost, Dr. Joachim is convinced that is exactly what is going to happen. In fact, she says the process is well underway.
"The advanced education center building was opened in 2007, the library is open, the Holloway complex on the back is open, the business complex is open," she says.
The focal point of the campus has always been Hardy Hall. That building, which covers nearly 50,000 square feet, was gutted by Katrina. Not much has been done since, but it will be. Joachim says they plan to put the food service there, as well as administrative offices, the book store and the student union.
An auditorium that was in Hardy Hall, will also be restored to its former glory. The cost, just for Hardy Hall, won't be cheap, but much of it should be paid for with federal dollars. Dr. Joachim says bids could go out next summer. There are also plans in the works, to completely transform a rec center on the back of the property.
"Arts and Letters is looking at it for the entertainment industry; for two emphasis areas, that is the film program and possibly the recording studio," Joachim says.
Hurricane Katrina left behind an estimated 15 to 20 million dollars worth of damage to the Gulf Park campus. It was a huge blow, but it was not a knockout punch. Joachim is confident the USM Gulf Park campus will once again be the premier campus it was in the early forties and fifties.
The college actually reopened just a few weeks after Katrina at its temporary location at the old Garden Park hospital. The college is still using that location, but more than half the classes are back at the beachfront campus.
Dr. Joachim hopes in three to four years all the classes will be back there.
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