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USM receives historic preservation grant for Bennett Auditorium


One of the most recognized and beloved buildings of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Hattiesburg campus – Bennett Auditorium – will be the beneficiary of a $235,000 preservation grant awarded to the school by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History as part of the Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program.

The award was announced Jan. 23 at the Bennett Auditorium, with USM President Dr. Joe Paul and State Representative Missy McGee of Hattiesburg shared details of the building’s benefits. The nearly 100-year-old two-story Neoclassical-style structure can accommodate approximately 1,000 people and is named after the university’s second president, Claude Bennett (1928-33), who foresaw the need for the facility’s construction and continued it .

The grant funds the necessary repair and restoration of the building’s interior decorative plasterwork and exterior windows—considered the most distinctive elements of the historic structure—as well as modernized lighting controls.

McGee worked with USM Foundation director Stace Mercier and School of Music director Colin McKenzie, along with the USM Physical Plant’s Architect and Manager of Space Utilization Sara Hill, to secure the grant, with Hill writing the grant application, allowing the university has the full 75 percent matching fund available through the program.

“This work helps us not only to preserve this historic structure, but also to keep it in use for future generations of golden eagles and community members, so that they too can attend University Forum lectures by the greatest minds from around the world. country, and witness some of the best artists and musicians,” said Dr. Paul. He continued to thank McGee, as well as Hill, Mercier and McKenzie for their efforts.

“Southern Miss could not serve its students and its communities without the support of the state legislature, and we are fortunate to have one of our own representatives representing us in Missy McGee in the Mississippi House of Representatives,” noted Dr. . Paul further up. “Missy, whose district, District 102, includes Southern Miss’s Hattiesburg campus, loves her hometown and loves her alma mater, and she advocates passionately and effectively for those she represents.”


McKenzie said he is delighted to have been awarded the grant and also commended Hill for her excellent work in writing the grant application and securing the maximum funding available.

“It is great to know that we can do what is necessary through this support from the state to help preserve this beautiful, venerable campus icon for the benefit of our university community and future generations of student music artists,” he said.

Bennett Auditorium, completed in 1930 and named in 1972, is located behind the Aubrey Keith Lucas Administration Building in the center of the campus’ historic district. Architect Vinson B. Smith Jr. of Gulfport designed Bennett Auditorium, as well as the Lucas Administration Building and The Hub. Designated a Historic Landmark by the State of Mississippi in 1986, it has been and continues to host a variety of concerts, forums, graduations, and other special events.

Some of the world’s most renowned musicians, authors, scientists, entertainers, intellectuals and political leaders have graced the stage at the Bennett Auditorium over the past century, including Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Charles, Yo-Yo Ma, Winton Marsalis, Steve Martin, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the late Mississippi Governor William Winter, and so many others.

The Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program was established in 2001 and has since provided more than $56 million dollars to help restore nearly 400 schools, courthouses, and other historic properties in communities across Mississippi. According to McGee, Hattiesburg has received nearly $700,000 over the past four years through the program to make improvements to historic properties in the city.

“I am very proud that Bennett Auditorium will continue to serve as the centerpiece of our beautiful campus, and will now be lovingly protected and restored for student use, home to the Southern Miss Symphony Orchestra, and will be enjoyed by generations of whole community. come,” she said.