USM Gulf Park celebrates end of final Katrina reconstruction

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - On the eve of the eighth anniversary of Katrina, USM hosted a significant ceremony. On Wednesday, university leaders celebrated the completion of the fifth and final Katrina reconstruction project on the Long Beach campus.

Their message was clear: USM Gulf Park is back and will be better and more beautiful than before.

"It's a historic day for all of us to finally get this last ribbon cut and get everybody back in their place. You may cut the ribbon now," announced Dr. Frances Lucas, USM Gulf Coast Vice President and Campus Executive Officer.

The ceremony celebrated the official opening of the rebuilt Elizabeth Hall. It was USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett's first ribbon cutting on the Gulf Park campus.

"To get to this point, it warms your heart. I mean, it's a blessing and we're grateful for it," said Bennett.

With the final Katrina rebuilding project behind them, USM leaders can now look forward to new construction projects and expanding programs.

"We're going to have a lot more ribbon cuttings in the next few years," Dr. Lucas told the crowd Wednesday.

For instance, Elizabeth Hall houses the university's film program. Dr. Lucas wants to see the program grow to support the film industry in south Mississippi.

"New Orleans, some believe, is over saturated. So we would like to provide a sound stage, and places for them to build their equipment and studios and hire lots of Mississippians and certainly graduates from our film program to run those studios," said Lucas.

Other plans include replacing the old Business Building with a more modern structure. Next week, crews will start landscaping the front of the campus.

"Many people have said they weren't sure we were open. Well, they're going to know that we're open when we finish the landscaping," said Lucas. "Also, we're really looking forward to in October at homecoming, we're getting a 16 foot bronze eagle that will be placed in the plaza, right behind Hardy Hall."

To make room for the large plaza, the historic Administration Building will finally come down.  Demolition is slated to start sometime in October.

"Right now, it's an eyesore, a danger to the students in the middle of campus, but it's bittersweet to see it go," said Jason Bigelow, Campus Architect and Physical Plant Director. "We're going to take it down to the existing foundation wall with a new piece of cast stone on it. It'll be landscaped, have lighting, and it'll be a beautiful plaza for the center of campus."

Elizabeth Hall also houses the College of Arts and Letters and faculty offices. The renovation of that building costs about $1.7 million. The total cost for all five Katrina reconstruction projects at Gulf Park is $26 million.

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