USM Will Stay In Long Beach - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

USM Will Stay In Long Beach

Members of the state college board delivered a clear message Tuesday: They are committed to higher education on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Future plans include reviving the storm-battered Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, along with expanding USM programs at another site.

But some significant challenges remain.

There have been recent worries the IHL might abandon the Long Beach campus and relocate USM Gulf Coast to another site. That won't happen. Instead, it appears to be the best of both worlds: Keeping Gulf Park and expanding higher education elsewhere on the coast.

"Our board will meet next week. And we are confident our board next week will decide to remain at Gulf Park," said Dr. Tom Meredith.

That good news from the higher education commissioner brought a collective sigh of relief to community leaders gathered for the informal higher education briefing.

Hurricane Katrina's destruction to the Long Beach campus of USM Gulf Coast raised the possibility of relocation and presented a significant challenge for delivering first rate college programs.

"The desire to offer those is there. The ability to offer them is here. The only thing that's not here are facilities. So, we have a little challenge ahead of us, don't we?" said USM President, Dr. Shelby Thames.

Two Gulf Park buildings, the advanced education center and the library, will be restored first. They're the newest structures and sustained little storm damage. The IHL board is making the decision to keep the Long Beach campus after two formal studies and much consideration.

Virginia Newton is a trustee on the state college board.

"We've studied this in every way. We've heard a lot of reports. We've had a lot of assessments and observations and determined that we do indeed need to be there," she said.

Exactly what will be build on the Long Beach campus depends at least partly on the same issues affecting many home and business owners: FEMA money and insurance settlements. There may also be limits on what can be done with the older buildings, if they're declared historically significant.

The group of leaders learned the immediate future of USM Gulf Coast stretches beyond the Long Beach campus and beyond the current campus at the old Garden Park hospital.

"The board will be exploring an additional site to offer higher education on the coast. Now where is that site?  We don't know," said Commissioner Meredith.

He says the IHL is looking for another site of 100 to 150 acres to expand USM's gulf coast programs. USM currently offers courses at seven different sites along the Gulf Coast.  

By Steve Phillips

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