The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Marine Education Center (MEC) received the 2018 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for its new $16-million facility in Ocean Springs.
The award honors new construction projects and specifically those that were built with sustainability at the forefront of the design.
“We saw this building project as an opportunity to be a teaching example of how sustainable design can lead to new development that has a minimal impact on our coastal and marine environment,” said MEC Director Chris Snyder. “This level of recognition by the AIA validates our team’s success in achieving that goal.”
Situated on 100 acres, the MEC serves as the education and outreach arm of USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering (SOSE) and provides a unique experience for participants in a natural coastal setting.
“The MEC facility was designed to educate students and the public on Mississippi’s marine and coastal habitats,” said SOSE Director Dr. Monty Graham. “By building with sustainability in mind, we are also offering a valuable blueprint for future projects on how to work with nature instead of against it.”
Lake Flato Architects, located in San Antonio, Texas, was contracted to design the state-of-the-art facility that would model the principles of coastal stewardship. The MEC was conceptualized as a place where visitors would “come and do” instead of “come and see.” Architects designed the site to fully immerse visitors into the surrounding area and the habitats it contains.
“Our association with the design team of Lake Flato and Unabridged Architects was a primary factor in the success of this project,” Snyder said. “By working with professional partners who were experienced in sustainable design, we were able to develop the MEC into a wonderful teachable moment for what individual projects can do to make a difference in maintaining the quality of our environment.”
The MEC replaces the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center, formally located on Point Cadet in Biloxi, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Following Katrina, the MEC relocated to the GCRL Halstead site in Ocean Springs.
Included in the 32,000-square-foot facility are public exhibits, laboratories and meeting spaces, as well as outdoor learning experiences featuring trails, outdoor and floating classrooms, and a pedestrian suspension bridge.
Following three years of construction and officially opening in April 2018, the MEC was constructed primarily with funding from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, administered by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.