College Students Spruce Up Biloxi Park

Biloxi residents say a neighborhood park has gone from public nuisance to a place of pride for the community. Since Katrina volunteers have made many improvements to John Henry Beck Park on Division Street. This week, a dozen architectural students from the University of Minnesota are working on yet another project.

These days there are children running through John Henry Beck Park, but for years neighbors say criminals dominated the park.

Geraldine Jackson lives next door.

"Bad. A lot of drugs. Cursing. Name it and it was out here," she said.

Since Katrina neighbors like Jackson have seen a lot of changes for the better. Kaboom put in new playground equipment. Hands On Gulf Coast began renovating a historic home into a community center. There is also a flower and vegetable garden. Over the last few weeks, college students from the University of Minnesota have been designing and building a gazebo.

"We're building a concrete platform that will act as a base, "said Justin Merkovich. "Then a shade structure over the top so parents and their families can stay out of the sun and watch little kids play in the park. It will hopefully be safe and a good place to play."

The students wanted the community to have a hand in the design so they had Boys and Girls Club members put their hand prints in cement.

Merkovich said, "We're trying to get something that will be very vibrant and alive. Showcase the whole area in terms of being a place to play and a place for families to inhabit rather than just a broken down park."

Geraldine Jackson's says her one-year-old great granddaughter Ashlyn and other children have a better place to play.

"It means a lot to this neighborhood. It means an awful lot. Because you couldn't even sit on your porch before then," she said. "Now you can sit out because it's not a lot of hanging around. It used to be people sitting around hanging out drinking, cursing and smoking. And now it's not like that at all."

The University of Minnesota students will be working on the coast through next week. The instructor says the John Henry Beck Park project is part of a course students are taking.