MUW launches post-tornado construction, renovation projects

COLUMBUS — Construction and renovation projects, totaling more than $23 million, are underway at Mississippi University for Women as the college works through the midpoint of its 20-year master plan.

The plan was developed following a 2002 tornado and, though school officials had hoped to be further along with some projects, overall good progress is being made, said Nora Miller, MUW vice president for finance and administration.

Miller said this summer, officials will re-evaluate the plan and make changes, if necessary.

The current work is evident the moment visitors enter the front gate.

To the left, orange plastic safety netting surrounds Orr Chapel, where the roof is being replaced.

Roofs also are being replaced at the Mary Wilson Home and Carrier Chapel. Work began on the two chapels in February, and work will begin at Mary Wilson in May. Phase 1 of the $480,000 project will be complete by June.

Miller said the roof was so damaged at Orr Chapel the building is closed, until repairs are complete. College officials plan to raise money to restore it to functionality.

Roofing projects totaling $885,000 will also take place at the President’s Home, Frazer Hall, McDevitt Hall and Hooper Science. An additional $35,000 will be spent at the President’s Home for exterior painting, replacement of rotten wood, floor repairs and electrical repairs.

Poindexter Hall, where a $9.5 million exterior and interior renovation is slated for completion this summer, is one of the biggest projects planned.

The 1905 building, which houses the music department and is one of 23 campus buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has posed some challenges, due to its age, as well as its unusual construction.

It features different levels on the north and south wings, creating an uneven floor and what Miller called “a rabbit hutch” effect for those who happen to get lost.

Part of the renovations are requirements to bring the building into compliance with the ADA standards for handicapped accessibility. Historic preservation codes prevented aligning the floors, so an elevator had to be installed for each wing.

Crews have restored as much of the heart pine flooring as possible, though Miller said some was too damaged to be salvageable. Other renovations include structural stabilization, waterproofing, roof and window replacement and asbestos and lead paint surveys and abatement.

Music classes are being held in the Cromwell Communications building, until repairs are complete, but Miller said faculty and students will be back in Poindexter by Aug. 15. When they return, they’ll have access to an electronic keyboard lab, private practice rooms and a small, 200-seat auditorium, which Miller said is “absolutely gorgeous.”

“We are thrilled,” Miller said. “This will really help us attract more students into our music program and will give us a wonderful locale for events.”

At a cost of $6.2 million, phase one of the Fant Library renovation and expansion is another major project.

“Our library has not been updated since the 1970s,” Miller said. “We joke that it’s almost retro. This project will allow us to have a library more reflective of today’s students, more the Barnes & Noble experience.”

Construction of the three-phase project is expected to begin in late summer or early fall and will include a facelift for the exterior, as well as the outer shell of the 46,000-square-foot addition, which will contain comfortable seating areas, meeting space, a coffee shop and an automated, high-density robotic shelving system for materials not in frequent circulation.

If funding is available for the second phase to begin immediately after phase one is complete, the entire $18 million project should be finished within three to four years, Miller said.

Fire suppression projects were completed last summer at Kincannon and Jones Halls at a cost of $515,000, and future projects are slated for Calloway and Grossnickle Halls.

A $1.79 million storm drainage and street repair project also is complete, and Miller said it has helped tremendously, with lessening flooding issues on campus.

But what was she most excited about? Heating and cooling upgrades and energy conservation measures.

The total project will cost $2.7 million, but for people like Miller, who works in Welty Hall, it will mean they no longer have to swelter every time a warm front breaks the winter chill.

Several buildings on campus — including Welty, Calloway, Whitfield, McDevitt, Shattuck, and Hogarth — are still heated with underground steam tunnels. They have to be warmed slowly, over a period of weeks, to safeguard against blowing holes in the tunnel walls, meaning the process must begin in October to be ready for the cold weather.

Once the heating process is under way, it’s difficult to stop or restart, so a sudden warm snap requires use of the air conditioner to counteract the heat.

“It’s very inefficient for the South,” Miller said. “It probably works fine in Michigan, but for someplace that might have a 20-degree day, then an 80-degree day, you can’t adjust. Pretty much, once we turn it on, it’s on. It ends up with people being very uncomfortable.”

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