GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The entrance to the Port of Gulfport is looking quite different lately.
"We wanted it to really be the welcoming point to the port," said Port of Gulfport Executive Director Jonathan Daniels.
Daniels said construction of the $12 million Marine Research Center is expected to be finished within the next 30 days.
The facility made possible with a partnership between the Port and Southern Miss will allow USM to start its ocean engineering program, which Vice President of Research Gordon Cannon said will bring students up close and personal with the environment they'll be learning about.
"They'll be able to study things here and then get on the ship and go right out into the ocean and do real work," Cannon said.
The research center on Hwy. 90 is just one of the many pieces coming together to make Gulfport a premiere destination for deep water discovery.
"When you consider what the city of Gulfport is doing, to be able to develop the aquarium and the way in which Southern Miss, the researchers, and the administrators will be involved in that facility, you're really looking at Gulfport serving as the epicenter for oceanographic research in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond," Daniels said.
The building will be used to plan exploration missions completed on the Point Sur research vessel already docked in the Port.
"A very large part of what we'll be doing is designing and studying the best way to use autonomous underwater vehicles or underwater drones," Cannon said.
Those underwater vehicles will be prepared in a giant tank under the research center.
"Our scientists came in, and they said as we were planning and building this that we need a tank because it will be so convenient," said Cannon. "We will be able to make all the adjustments we need right in the building before we go out on the ship."
When the facility opens to students in the fall, Daniels said the work won't be finished and he said other projects are in the planning stages.
"We're already looking at the next stage of development between Southern Miss and the port. This is just a part of it," Daniels said.
University staff is scheduled to start moving into the building during the summer. According to school officials so far, they've received 80 applications from students wanting to take part in the ocean engineering program.