The 15 community colleges in Mississippi will reopen in fall 2020, and Pearl River Community College officials are preparing for that return while also completing multiple construction projects.
Dr. Adam Breerwood, PRCC president, said presidents of the state’s community colleges, through their Mississippi Association of Community Colleges organization, have been discussing reopening plans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The schools are currently reviewing the necessary health guidelines to safely open.
“All the presidents meet every Tuesday via Zoom just for general discussion,” Breerwood said. “Usually, we meet once a month, but over the past several months ... we meet once a week, and that’s minimum. We are in constant communication about ideas and strategies. I think we all want to be consistent in our approach. That has been taking place since before spring break, and we have kept up those conversations for the last three months.”
As of now, the main concern is ensuring each campus has enough supplies to keep buildings sanitary while developing other procedures that follow health guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi State Department of Health.
“We are doing a lot of things by making sure we have masks, supplies ... and (ensuring) departments have everything they need to properly sanitize these buildings on a daily basis,” Breerwood said. “We are checking our dorm and check-in procedures, seeing what they look like and making sure that we have questions answered. It changes every day. We are following all the guidelines, and as those guidelines change, new strategies and requirements are put into place. We are having to adapt to those scenarios.”
After switching to online-only classes in the spring, Breerwood said the college has been able to complete its Poplarville campus construction as well as construction projects on its Forrest County campus in Hattiesburg.
“I think we have moved at a faster pace,” Breerwood said. “Some things have taken a little bit longer, but once the students left, we knew there was going to be a time frame ... where we could speed (construction) a little bit. Any silver lining with this ... is getting things done and not having to throw off any class schedules due to construction.”
The biggest undertaking at the Forrest County Center involves renovations in Building 5, which will house a multipurpose room, police station, new bookstore and a micro-market featuring hot and cold items and other snacks. The building will also house the William Lewis Honors Institute and a new health and fitness area.
A new courtyard, which is funded by a $375,000 grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation, is also being created to connect Buildings 3 and 5. The project will also include new sidewalks, sitting areas, exterior lighting and greenspaces.
“I think there is a tremendous growth opportunity in Forrest County,” Breerwood said. “I think we have lovely industry partnerships. We have really focused on the needs and what type of work do we need to provide so that students can be successful. I give a lot of credit to our Forrest County Board of Supervisors. They help us.”
Breerwood said the educational opportunities offered at the Forrest County Center are exceptional.
“We really believe that Forrest County has an opportunity for growth and to really offer people jobs. We have a wonderful adult education program. It’s the best adult education program in terms of numbers and graduates,” he added.
Breerwood said the Forrest County Center improvements will increase the overall student experience at the college.
“I’ve learned over the years that people want to feel part of a community,” he said. “We really felt that we needed to improve our food services and bookstore operation. We put a lot of money into building projects for new student facilities just to try and make the experience better and try to alleviate any obstacles people have.”
On the Poplarville campus, the school has started construction of two new dormitories, and Breerwood credits the school’s consistent increase in enrollment as the reason for the expansions at both locations.
“We have been fortunate, and I think we are the only college in the state that can say this ... that we have had eight consecutive semesters where we had enrollment growth,” he said. “Right now, around the country, that is almost unheard of. The thing about Poplarville is we had a waiting list of over 700 students that wanted to reside in college housing, and we just couldn’t accommodate them.”
Also, the school has completed its renovation of its science building and the construction of its new annex at the Poplarville campus.
“Our science building has some age on it and is 30-plus years old, at least,” Breerwood said. “We started to notice the average ACT score was on the rise, and many of the top students in our area started to choose Pearl River and were very interested in the STEM programs. We have a very good transfer rate to universities, so we felt we needed to have state-of-the-art labs. It was time for an upgrade, and we built new labs and office space. We took the new labs and added some additional classroom space.”
Renovations at the Forrest County Center will be complete in August, and the new dormitories at the Poplarville campus will open in January 2021.