A woman carries belongings down a street after a tornado left heavy damage in Hattiesburg, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013. (Photo: Matt Bush)
Officials estimate it will take tens of millions of dollars to repair damage at the University of Southern Mississippi caused by Sunday’s tornado.
The College Board voted unanimously Wednesday to allow Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds to sign contracts and take other actions without board approval to help the 16,000-student school in Hattiesburg recover.
“Because of the need to move with a real sense of urgency, we don’t need to wait for a board meeting,” Bounds said. His temporary authority runs through at least April.
Officials say USM plans to resume classes Thursday, although 87 sections will be in temporary quarters. Because the school was already closed Monday and Tuesday for Mardi Gras, only one day of class was canceled.
USM officials said nearly 1,000 students and other volunteers helped to clean up debris like roofing nails earlier Wednesday, filling 1,450 trash bags.
Student dorms were undamaged, although some private apartments were hit. The school is offering housing to students whose off-campus quarters are unlivable.
The tornado damaged eight or nine buildings at the southern edge of campus. One of those, a former fire station converted to house the jazz program, will have to be torn down, Bounds said. Other heavily affected buildings held music and art programs.
He said officials believe the heavily damaged Alumni House can be partially salvaged.
The southern end of campus, which had large live oak trees and a formal rose garden, may look a lot different, though. “Unfortunately, the beauty of the front of campus has been damaged,” Bounds said.
Most of the damage is expected to be covered by a $500 million insurance policy, which has a $100,000 deductible.
Because the state’s public universities now have what Bounds described as “really good insurance,” he said he didn’t immediately anticipate that USM would seek aid from the Legislature.
Tornado recovery could dominate the early part of the tenure of incoming USM President Rodney Bennett. The current University of Georgia’s vice president for student affairs is supposed to start work April 1.
“What great pride you’re showing in supporting your school by coming to help get us back where we need to be for classes,” Bennett told volunteers Wednesday. “This is our institution. It is going to succeed or fail based on what we do, and each of our personal commitment to its success.”
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