Restoration set to start on USM's Katrina-battered buildings

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - USM Gulf Park students have a new place to go to buy their textbooks. The book store has moved from USM's Gulfport site back to the Long Beach campus.

"This is the final piece. All the services for all the students are back on the Long Beach campus. So it's a big deal," said Jason Bigelow, the campus' Physical Plant Director.

The book store is located in a trailer for now. Next fall, it will move into its permanent home -- Hardy Hall. The Katrina-battered building is about to undergo a $10 million renovation.

"We've actually accepted bids on that. We will be breaking ground on it next week," said Bigelow. "We're very excited about the fact that one of the major portions of our campus, on the very front of the campus, one of the historic aspects, is going to be fully renovated."

Hardy Hall is one of four front buildings that still bear the scars from Katrina. For six years, they have sat vacant, dilapidated, practically untouched.

"The whole community has been very anxious for these projects to get started. We could have done it quickly. We want to do it correctly," said Bigelow.

Lloyd Hall is next in line for a much-needed face-lift. The cost is about $2.1 million.

"We will be awarding that contract next month," said Bigelow. "It's going to still be the exact same Lloyd Hall that everybody recognizes, it being the main entry building to the campus."

The third building to be restored is Elizabeth Hall.

"We're going to renovate the exterior into exactly how it is. It's sort of a mid-century modern building," said Bigelow.

The final project is the Administration Building. Its fate however, remains in limbo.

"It's shuttered and moth balled until we finish our other buildings," said Bigelow. "We do have an agreement "We have an agreement with the Mississippi Department of Archives, whereby it could be torn down. Right now, we have not made that decision yet."

So crews are using painted plywood panels to cover-up the blown-out windows on the building and to beautify the campus. The focus now is to start construction on the other buildings by the end of the year.  All three buildings should be finished by fall of 2011.

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