Construction starts Katrina recovery for PRCC

POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) - By Elizabeth Vowell – email

POPLARVILLE, MS (WLOX) – Most of the students heading to their first week of classes at Pearl River Community College may have only just started high school when Hurricane Katrina hit, but they can still see the storm's effects on the campus.

"Nearly every building on campus had roof damage as well as the buildings that were destroyed. We brought in trailers for the fine arts classes.  It took us a while to get back," said PRCC Public Relations Director Chuck Abadie.

Three buildings were wiped out: the Moody Hall auditorium, a men's dorm, and the Coliseum.  It took three weeks before the school was able to resume classes.

The fine arts classes were moved to trailers, where class is still being held.  With both the Coliseum and the Moody Hall auditorium gone, any performances have been done in the school's cafeteria.

"It's been a long and hard process for this institution to finally reach this point," said Abadie.

During the storm it was a tornado that took out the auditorium attached to Moody Hall and the Coliseum that was used throughout the community.

The school has been working out settlements with insurance and FEMA since the storm.  The final estimate on damages was around $5 million.

"It was long, I know it's been long for everybody since the storm, but it's very satisfying to have reached this point," said Abadie.

For Abadie and others at PRCC, breaking ground on construction isn't just about new buildings.  It's a solid sign that five years of claims and paperwork have ended, and that full recovery can begin.

"There's a lot of smiling faces now with all the negotiations we went through and the paperwork and such," said Abadie.

The new facilities couldn't come at a better time.  The school's enrollment grows every year, with this year setting a new record of more than 5400 students.

Construction on the men's dorm and the auditorium is expected to be finished in time for fall classes next year.  Abadie expects construction on the Coliseum and a new fine arts facility to start in the spring.

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