Getting around The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Gulf Park campus in Long Beach is starting to get easier, thanks to funding from the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s (MDOT) Transportation Alternatives Program.
The University’s Physical Plant has been updating the sidewalks and other outdoor areas across campus for several months, which includes wider sidewalks, walkways that are Americans with Disabilities Act accessible, directional signage, and new lighting. Future work will include a dedicated viewing area for the famed Friendship Oak.
“We’re very appreciative of MDOT Commissioner Tom King for his support in helping us map out these plans in order to make these projects happen,” said Dr. Shannon Campbell, Senior Associate Vice President for Coastal Operations at USM. “Being the beachfront campus of Mississippi, we want people to feel welcome here, and these sidewalks and the lighting help us to do that, not only by making campus more navigable for students, faculty, and staff, but also by connecting us to the community at large.”
In phase one of the project, “ghost” sidewalks were eliminated. These sidewalks were remnants of Hurricane Katrina, which led to buildings no longer standing.
“We had buildings that were no longer here, so we had sidewalks that were going nowhere. We were able to take all those out and install new sidewalks that accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists to get from one side of campus to the other,” said Jason Cantu, architect and space planner for the Gulf Park campus.
The new sidewalks are anywhere from six to 12-feet wide, compared to the previous width of just three feet. They are also designed aesthetically with brick-paved “nodes” that connect sidewalks that intersect with each other.
“Before, the sidewalks were just kind of haphazard. Now, they’re planned, they’re purposeful, they’re meaningful, and they’re beautiful,” Cantu said.
Cantu explained that the sidewalk project, deemed the Pathways Project, allows for two axes to exist on campus—one that runs north and south, and the other east and west. The Science Building, for example, was built after Hurricane Katrina, and more sidewalks were needed to connect the west side of campus where it is located.
“In our master plan, we are also hoping to start connecting to Long Beach,” Cantu explained. “So, phase two takes us to the Science Building but also provides a place for Long Beach to tie into us and us to tie into them.”
This extension into the City of Long Beach includes plans for a future gateway entrance on the west side of campus, similar to the one already at the main entrance on the south side.
It also creates an opportunity for sidewalks to be placed there so that the USM campus connects to downtown Long Beach. Such an addition would better allow students to walk to local businesses and improve campus access for city residents who exercise there or attend events.
“Part of this project is actually addressing the need for us to connect some of our buildings on the west side of campus, which is our growth area for future growth and future facilities,” Campbell explained. “The sidewalks will allow us to connect those future projects as well.”
Other updates in the Pathways Project that are ongoing include installing lighting across campus that matches that of the Hattiesburg campus, black and gold banners, and benches and tables near the Friendship Oak to provide a comfortable viewing spot. The sidewalk near the Friendship Oak will also be extended south toward the beach.
There is also new way-finding across campus that lists buildings and points of interest. USM is currently designing phase three, with construction to begin late spring and complete by December 2022.