Stennis officials exploring expansion plans

HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials at the Stennis Space Center are looking at expansion plans that will take the facility far beyond its original mission.

Included in the 20-year master plan are revisions to 50-year-old buildings, expansion of the marine operations and data center areas and growth of university activity.

“Fifty years ago, when we first built the place, it was all about rocket engine testing,” Ron Magee, assistant to the director of center operations, told The Sun Herald.

Most of the land at Stennis still is devoted to rocket testing operations, and a 125,000-acre buffer zone surrounding the nearly-14,000-acre complex protects the outside community from the noise created by the testing.

Much of that zone won’t be developed. The rest of Stennis is a mix of offices, laboratories and public spaces as well as warehouses, shops and operations centers.

On July 1, the Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant’s 400,000 square feet of space will be turned over to Stennis on July 1. The plant, which comes with 4,200 acres of land, was closed in 2005. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne assembly operations are currently located there. Passports and other critical documents are also made in this area by the Government Printing Office, Magee said.

Magee expects marine operations and data operations to grow as well as Navy activities that rely on water access increase. Marine operations located at Stennis include the home of the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School and the Navy’s Special Boat Team 22, part of the Special Warfare Command.

Also expected to grow is the section designated for data operations. It’s the location of the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage, and the immediate area could grow as other data centers consider locating there, Magee said.

Over the next 20 years, Stennis plans to refurbish and renovate buildings original to the facility. Many of the buildings date to the Apollo program, he said. Many buildings will be gutted and rebuilt, or in some cases, new buildings will be constructed.

Universities will play a major role to expand in the expansion plans, Magee said.

University of Southern Mississippi has three buildings at Stennis and Mississippi State University is adding another 50,000-square-foot building with plans for another if needed. The University of Mississippi and University of New Orleans also have a presence at Stennis.

Having the universities at the facility allows workers more direct contact with the government scientists working on various projects, he said. Professors are also more easily accessible and often teach advance degree programs on the Stennis campus.

“We need the university research. We need those bright minds that can help us infuse new technology and help us meet future demand,” Magee said. “We actually have companies that are looking at locating here and one of the factors is that they can have university-based research done to help them improve their product over the long term.

Source: The Sun Herald

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