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Multi-Use Building, Park Proposals for Wiggins Provide School of Construction and Design Students Real-World Opportunity

Tue, 10/12/2021 - 09:37pm | By: David Tisdale

Various photos of the proposalsA collaboration between University of Southern Mississippi (USM) architectural technology design students and leaders of a neighboring community shows promise for mutual benefit by bringing out the potential in both. 

In early 2021, the Stone County Economic Development Partnership (SCEDP) was awarded a Façade Grant from Mississippi Power Company. City of Wiggins (the Stone County seat of government) and county leaders wanted to show area property owners and investors the opportunities available for small business development in the central business district of Wiggins, and in May reached out to USM about a design project for the organization that could be supported by the grant. 

USM Assistant Teaching Professor Nick Wickersham’s Architectural Studio III students attended a workshop hosted by SCEDP that included Wiggins Mayor Darrell Berry, community leaders, and SCEDP and Chamber of Commerce Board Members. This meeting became the basis for further discussion about how students in the USM program could produce designs to help the community see what is possible for Wiggins, and since then several of Wickersham’s students have been using the city as their studio laboratory, where they have developed options for a design site.   

“This past summer, Dr. Erich Connell (director, USM School of Construction and Design), SCEDP Executive Director Betsy Rowell, and my colleague John Kochtitzky and I participated in a few roundtables, emails, and phone calls discussing the possibility of what could be done this (fall) semester,” Wickersham said. “I proposed the following project: two live/work buildings and one public park (for Wiggins). This gives the students the opportunity to design three different types of spaces: residential, commercial, and public.

“In relation to architecture, we want to learn more about “place”:  What makes Wiggins special and how can we fold some of these things into our architecture?  If we do this, I am hopeful our architecture will then be rooted in place, and that these proposed visions of Wiggins help others see the potential here.”

This semester, Wickersham has 20 architecture students in their final year of the program participating in the project. In their recent Mid-Review for the project, students received feedback from local residents.

“This project has given them the opportunity to use their design skills in a real-world situation, as well as talk with people in Wiggins about what they want to see for their community, which is important because it gives them some real-life perspective,” he continued. “They (students) will need to take these responses to heart, using some of the community's suggestions to better their projects for the final review.

Wickersham’s students have visited the downtown site in Wiggins and produced sketches and drawings; their work will be printed on weather-resistant boards so that they may be displayed on the sidewalks and other areas of downtown Wiggins. A Final Project Review will be held Wednesday, Oct. 13 at the Stone County Courthouse in Wiggins.

“I’ve worked with many student groups over the years, and it is so reenergizing for me to be surrounded by their enthusiasm and creativity,” Rowell said. “There’s no challenge they won’t tackle. I can’t wait for our community to see the product from their efforts.”

At the end of the project, Wickersham and Rowell have scheduled a meeting about best practices, during which they will look at what was accomplished and what can be built upon going forward. “After this meeting, we will identify a project, or projects, for next semester and possibly the summer,” Wickersham said. “In the future, I see plenty of opportunities in this collaborative environment.” 

USM Architecture Technology student Breanna Sykes is currently working with the SCEDP, helping with visual diagrams, maps, and other visual-based information to help further Wiggins' needs. 

Wickersham praised Rowell for her enthusiasm and commitment to the project. “Betsy Rowell is one of the best people I could ask to partner with. She is very passionate about her community, and it is very infectious,” he continued. “This is an amazing opportunity, and she and I are interested in a symbiotic relationship that benefits both Wiggins and USM students' education. As this is the first semester, we are both excited about the things we can accomplish in the future.”

Wiggins Mayor Berry said he is pleased with the partnership with USM and looks forward to the presentations on Oct. 13. “I commend the leadership of the Stone County EDP for their efforts to bring attention to our Central Business District, and to the Construction and Design Department at USM for their enthusiasm,” Berry further noted.

Scott Maddox, president of SCEDP and owner of Southern Turnings on Pine Hill in downtown Wiggins, concurs with Berry. ““This has been a truly amazing group of students,” he said. “Their study of Stone County, the creative and innovative ideas they presented, and the attention to detail were spot on. Their ideas are relevant, appropriate, and viable options for development. 

“If you are thinking of joining the growing list of entrepreneurs around our growing county, there will be 42 ideas created by this talented group of students to get you inspired and motivated to make your plans a reality.”    

The USM School of Construction and Design is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. For more information about the school, visit School of Construction and Design | The University of Southern Mississippi (