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USM, Port of Gulfport Celebrate Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for New $12.2-Million Marine Research Center

Wed, 09/26/2018 - 15:23pm | By: James Skrmetta

Ribbon-cutting for The University of Southern Mississippi's new Marine Research Center was held Friday, Sept. 21 in Gulfport.

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) celebrated the opening of the new $12.2-million Marine Research Center (MRC) Friday, Sept. 21, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Port of Gulfport.

Located on Highway 90 at the Port's entrance, the new research center is the centerpiece for a new maritime blue economy in South Mississippi. The MRC provides shoreside support to USM's 135-foot oceanographic research vessel, the R/V Point Sur, and to a number of academic programs.

Governor Phil Bryant, U.S. Congressman Steven Palazzo, Mayor of Gulfport Billy Hewes, Mississippi House of Representatives and Senate members, Port of Gulfport Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Daniels, University officials and representatives from the Port of Gulfport were in attendance to cut the ribbon on the newest addition to USM's research portfolio. 

“The University of Southern Mississippi is proud to partner with the Port of Gulfport as we create new initiatives that will not only enhance the University's research efforts along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but also impact communities across our state and beyond,” said University President Rodney D. Bennett. “I look forward to the opportunities this new facility will allow our scientists to harness as we continue our work in ocean science and engineering in support of academia, industry, and Governor Phil Bryant's Blue Economy.”

The building is operated by the University's School of Ocean Science and Engineering, which offers marine and coastal sciences degrees, including the only ocean engineering program in Mississippi and the only certificate in Unmanned Maritime Systems in the nation.

“Thirteen years ago, a casino sat right here after Hurricane Katrina made landfall,” said USM School of Ocean Science and Engineering Director Monty Graham. “Today shows the resiliency of South Mississippi. Resiliency isn't about bouncing back; it's about bouncing forward.”

Encompassing nearly 18,000 square feet, this unique building serves as the principal marine operations and support facility for the University's oceanographic research efforts.

“The Marine Research Center will serve as the centerpiece of Mississippi's Blue Economy and help put thousands of young Mississippians to work exploring our Gulf,” said Gov. Phil Bryant. “The partnerships forged here will revolutionize our understanding of the undersea world.”

After the ceremony, guests enjoyed tours of the sprawling facility with the researchers that will fill its halls. Photos and videos of shipwrecks discovered by scientists hang in the hallways – a constant reminder of the adventures that await at sea.

A partnership between USM, the Mississippi State Port Authority, and the Mississippi Development Authority, this new facility includes classrooms, laboratories, an 8-foot-deep in-ground testing tank, administrative offices and storage areas. The building was designed by Eley Guild Hardy Architects of Biloxi and constructed by Wharton-Smith, Inc. of Gulfport.

“We know more about the surface of the moon than our oceans,” said Bryant. “USM's new facility is a step toward changing that.”

The project was funded through the Port of Gulfport's Restoration Program, which has allowed the Port to increase capacity and diversify its tenant mix. Construction began in November 2016 with completion of the building in June 2018.

“This partnership is about joining the blue and green economies,” said Port of Gulfport Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Daniels. “What has been accomplished here may define a child's life.”

Daniels spoke about the opportunities the facility opens up for future researchers who yearn to navigate uncharted waters and discover the unknown.

“The projects and academia from USM's School of Ocean Science and Engineering may be inspiration to craft the next Bob Ballard,” Daniels said. “And who knows the incredible things they will discover.”