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HATTIESBURG — Recovering from a tornado in January that damaged almost every building on the William Carey University campus — at a cost of $73 million — has been a monumental challenge. But rebuilding a better campus also is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, says university President Tommy King.

On Wednesday, William Carey broke ground to reconstruct Tatum Court, which was the oldest building on campus and a total loss after the EF-3 tornado tore through the area last winter. Throughout the summer, repairs have been made on many campus buildings, and construction begun on others, as students prepare to return on Aug. 28.

Tatum Court, the university’s most beloved building, opened in 1914. Tatum Court housed the largest auditorium in Hattiesburg and was the first in the state to house an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool.

“Tatum Court represented far more than a building. It represented a quality education,” said Dr. Scott Hummel, provost at William Carey University.

The new Tatum Court will house administrative offices, student services and a floor to accommodate banquets and events. The former building housed administrative and faculty offices, classrooms, the O.L. Suave Theatre and the Ralph and Naomi Noonkester School of Arts and Letters. The new $9.3 million dollar facility is expected to open in summer 2018.

After the January storm, the University of Southern Mississippi opened its doors to William Carey students for residences and classrooms. William Carey’s medical school will continue to function on the USM campus in Hattiesburg. Several local churches provided space for classes as well.

Beginning with the fall semester, classes will resume on campus and students registered to live on campus will return to their dorms.

Damage that could be repaired — including more than 30 classroom buildings, dormitories, offices, labs and athletic fields — should be completed this fall. The six buildings deemed a total loss will be rebuilt to open next year.

A rendering of the Asbury Academic Building expected to be complete by summer 2018

Restoration of the School of Business, and construction of two new dorms and the Asbury Academic Building — in addition to the new Tatum Court — should be completed by summer 2018.

The Asbury Academic Building, which will sit adjacent to the new Tatum Court, is a $2.2 million facility named in honor of the Asbury Foundation, which pledged the highest amount to campus recovery following the tornado.

The facility will house the Ralph and Naomi Noonkester School of Arts and Letters classrooms and faculty offices that were originally in the Old Tatum Court. The building will also include space for the university’s Lucille Parker Gallery.

The university refused to accept assistance from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to speed the recovery process, said King. Belmont College in Nashville, sister school to William Carey, gave $100,000 and donations from alumni and other agencies contributed a total amount of $3.2 million to help cover the $7.9 million of out-of-pocket costs to rebuild on campus.

“Carey strong is not a slogan. It is a demonstrated reality because God is our refuge and strength,” said Hummel.

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Ashley F. G. Norwood, a native of Jackson, earned a bachelor's degree in English from Jackson State University and a master’s degree from the Meek School of Journalism at the University of Mississippi. Norwood, who specializes in multimedia journalism, has been recognized nationally for her documentary film the fly in the buttermilk, which covers the history, perceptions and principles of black Greek-lettered organizations at the University of Mississippi.