February 27, 2014 11:09:29 AM
State senators specifically allocated almost $85 million in bonds to Mississippi's public universities and junior colleges Wednesday with legislation that, if signed into law, will fund renovations to Mississippi State University's and Mississippi University for Women's libraries.
As approved by the Senate, a committee substitute for SB 2975 would provide $7 million to MSU for an addition to Mitchell Memorial Library. Also, MUW would receive $4.9 million for its own renovations to Fant Memorial Library.
Fifteen Mississippi junior colleges would also split $22 million for their own individual projects, according to the bill. Specifically, SB 2975 allocates $1.4 million to East Mississippi Community College.
MSU plans to add an additional floor to its library, Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said, thereby increasing the facility's capacity as a repository of special collections, exhibits and other scholarly documents. Previous legislation provided funding for engineering and planning efforts, he said, and the university is poised to move forward with the project once funding is secured.
"We are extremely hopeful that the second year of this bond package will win legislative approval. Expansion is necessary to provide an appropriate venue for special collections and other premier collections," he said. "Dean (Frances) Coleman and her staff are finalizing specific plans for those renovations and additions. (Approval) would keep the project on schedule."
MUW is currently tending to its first phase of Fant Memorial Library renovations and is expected to begin the second phase next month, said Nora Miller, the university's senior vice president for administration and chief financial officer.
After adding a new façade to the structure, workers will turn their attention to renovating electrical, mechanical and interior aspects of the library, one corridor at a time. Future renovations will focus on transitioning the library into the digital age, and are expected to establish additional collaboration space, computer stations and a dedicated area for university archives.
"If we get $4.9 million for phase three, that would take us closer to the $7.5 we estimated to complete the building. We're getting there slowly but surely," she said.
"The library supports every academic program on this campus. It touches all of our students and faculty," Miller added. "We're bringing it up to how people do their research now."
Additionally, the facility is expected to house an automated storage and retrieval system for certain reference materials. Fant Memorial Library is expected to be one of the first Mississippi universities to utilize such a system.
"We're not only providing technology for learning but also for efficiency," she said.
Constructed in the 1950s, Mitchell Memorial Library received significant upgrades in the 1970s and 1990s. Specifically, the university completed a $14.6 million expansion and renovation project in 1996.
Fant Memorial Library, which was built in 1969, had not received major renovations since its construction, Miller said.
The bill's total figure is expected to change as lawmakers parse funding options for a multi-million dollar construction project at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. House members previously passed a separate, $31 million bill for that project, but SB 2975 only allocates $1 million for the second phase of constructing, furnishing and equipping a new classroom building.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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