Hurricane Damage May Send USM Gulf Park Packing

Both Dr. Jay Grimes and Dr. Pat Joachim emphasized that no decisions regarding USM Gulf Park have been made. However, the provost and the associate provost pointed out that Katrina was the third hurricane to pummel the Long Beach campus. So, as stewards of taxpayers money, the administrators said USM must consider any option that protects their classrooms from the next hurricane.

The August hurricane hammered virtually every building on the USM Gulf Park campus. For instance, Lloyd Hall has a "this building is unsafe" sign hanging from windows so people stay away from the hurricane weakened structure. Across the campus, Hardy Hall, home to so many meetings and lunches, is also in disarray. Classrooms where college students studied math, and culinary students learned how to cook can't be used anymore.

Because of Katrina, USM administrators are now wondering if it's finally time to move the campus away from the water.

Billy Skellie said they better not.

"I would be very disappointed if that happened," the Long Beach mayor said.

Skellie admits he's heard rumors since Katrina about USM looking for land along the interstate to relocate these damaged waterfront classrooms. But so far, the mayor hasn't talked with any USM administrators about whether they're considering moving the Long Beach campus out of town.

"We certainly want to keep it here," said the mayor. "I think it's very important for our city to be a part of this and for them to be a part of us."

Skellie said Long Beach never got much of a financial boost from USM.  But, for almost 100 years, it's given Long Beach a certain amount of prestige -- and that's a priceless commodity the mayor doesn't want to lose.

"Long Beach has always been a great player at trying to be a very good neighbor and supporter of the campus," Skellie said. "It's just like everything else on our gulf coast. It's been hurt. And it's going to have to be repaired."

Dr. Grimes said there was no timetable to determine if the Long Beach campus would be rebuilt or moved to a new location. Ultimately, that decision will be made by the state college board.

Based on preliminary estimtes, the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach sustained more than $15 million in hurricane damage.

And it wasn't the only USM facility with damage estimates that high. Hurricane Katrina caused about $14 million in damage to the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center. The destruction there was so severe, Dr. Grimes said USM will not rebuild the east Biloxi aquarium. Instead, the university will work with Biloxi and the state to sell the Point Cadet property.

It's very likely a new marine education center will be built on USMs Cedar Point property in Jackson County.