Media Releases

Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Public Information Office

For Immediate Release

GCRL Chooses Nationally Renowned Firm to Design New Marine Education Center

Ocean Springs, Mississippi –The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) announced today that Lake|Flato Architects of San Antonio, Texas, would design the new Marine Education Center (MEC), built to replace the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium lost during Hurricane Katrina.  Lake|Flato and their local partner, Unabridged Architecture of Bay St. Louis, will work with a team comprised of USM/GCRL staff and members of the community to create a building whose environmental features will be as much of an attraction as the nature surrounding it.

“We want this facility to be a model for building in this region,” said Jeff Lotz, PhD, and Interim Director of GCRL.  “We want to be energy efficient, storm resistant, and appropriate to the landscape.”

The new MEC will be built at the Cedar Point Site in Ocean Springs, on 224 acres featuring maritime forests, marshes and access to Davis Bayou and the Mississippi Sound. GCRL directors envision a 32,000 square foot complex with a mix of public exhibits, classrooms, laboratories, meeting spaces and administrative offices. A system of trails, boardwalks and outdoor classrooms, already under construction, will take the learning experiences beyond the building to make it a true nature center.

The Cedar Point Site is home to the Thad Cochran Aquaculture Center. Two key research groups, Microbiology and Genetics, have recently migrated from GCRL’s Halstead Road location to the new Aquaculture Research Building at the site.  These facilities along with a state of the art Aquaculture Visitor Center serves to set the stage for the new MEC.

Lake|Flato shares GCRL’s commitment to sustainable, energy efficient design. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE), the profession's premier program for sustainable design excellence, has awarded the firm five of its Top Ten Green Projects award. The group has extensive experience with science and nature centers, including the Harte Environmental Research Institute, Naples Botanical Garden, and the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.

Robert Harris, principal designer for Lake|Flato, states, “For over 25 years, Lake|Flato has employed practical and thoughtful sustainable strategies that conserve resources, engage nature and promote healthful living. We are excited to work with GCRL to build an environmentally sustainable facility for science education in South Mississippi.“

In the six years since Katrina, the MEC has managed to continue its tradition of providing quality marine educational programs. Last year MEC programs provided learning experiences for more than 4,000 participants ranging in age from 6 to 72 and representing over 30 states and several countries.  “We have been in temporary facilities at the GCRL campus for the past 6 years and built a successful marine education program here by focusing on field experiences,” says MEC Director Chris Snyder. “We have found that students and visitors really enjoy learning about marine science by being on a boat, beach or barrier island.  GCRL will continue that tradition of outdoor experiences at the new facility.”

For press inquiries, contact Martha Brown at or (228) 872.4254.

The mission of the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Mississippi's marine laboratory, is scientific discovery related to coastal and marine resources, development of new marine technologies, and the education of future scientists and citizens.

About The University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at   

Hilltop Arboretum, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A project by Lake|Flato Architects.

Hilltop Arboretum, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A project by Lake|Flato Architects. Photo provided by Lake|Flato Architects.