Jackson State University announced it has postponed move-in dates this fall as the capital city’s “unprecedented water pressure issues” are affecting water flow on the upper floors of student housing.
JSU’s campus is just west of downtown Jackson, an area contending with low pressure after the city pulled some water pumps offline earlier this week due to mechanical issues at the OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant. This comes as the city remains under a boil water notice issued two weeks ago by the Mississippi State Department of Health due to higher than average levels of turbidity, or cloudiness, in the water.
The university is now planning for the 750 new students who were scheduled to move-in this Saturday to come to campus starting Thursday, Aug. 18. The move-in date for returning students is now Saturday, Aug. 20. But those dates are still subject to the city restoring water pressure, according to a press release posted to the university’s social media.
Classes are still scheduled to start on Monday, Aug. 22.
“While we know this is a huge inconvenience, the postponement is the right thing to do to prevent students from arriving on campus while we’re experiencing these water issues,” university officials said in the press release.
Last week, city officials said that while they did not have a “definitive timeline” for lifting the boil water notice, they hoped service would be back to fully functioning starting today for well-system customers starting today and as early as Saturday for surface system customers.
The water issues are also affecting Jackson Public Schools, the superintendent told WAPT, affecting the ability of some larger buildings that are more than 50 years old to flush toilets.
“We’re at a place now where many of our buildings are failing us,” Errick Greene said. “HVAC systems, plumbing systems, electricity, we’re constantly patching, fixing, and running behind so many issues.”
JSU, a historically Black college, relies on the city water system but for years has sought support from the Legislature to construct its own. Though lawmakers this session appropriated American Rescue Plan Act funds for capital projects at Mississippi’s eight public universities, most of the bills seeking infrastructure improvements for JSU – such as new dormitories – died in committee.
Of the 17 bills introduced last session for capital improvements at JSU, only one – a bill authorizing the university to sell land to a private entity to develop student housing – was signed into law. Capital projects for the universities are sometimes funded through appropriation and bond bills.
One of the unsuccessful bills, proposed earlier this year by Rep. Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia,sought $8 million for JSU for costs associated with building a separate water system.
Cockerham said she has long thought that JSU, her alma mater, needs its own water supply. This issue became particularly urgent, she said, after seeing how last year’s ice storm affected the campus. Students, faculty and staff didn’t have clean water, according to HBCU Advocate, and the university had to install portable showers and restrooms near the dorms.
The impact on students of the university pushing its move-in date underscores the need for her bill, Cockerham said.
“Some students live here locally, but a lot of students are coming from out of state,” she said. “This severely affects the parents, especially if they bought plane tickets, if they rented cars, if they’ve got U-hauls.”
The university’s press release states that the financial aid and business offices will be available to assist students with completing registration during the new move-in dates.
Four Mississippi universities have their own water systems, according to the Institutions of Higher Learning, including Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi.
The University of Mississippi Medical Center uses its own water source for about 90% of campus with the remaining coming from the city, IHL’s spokesperson, Caron Blanton, wrote in an email earlier this year.
IHL has received $25 million in ARPA funds for capital projects at all eight public universities, but it’s likely not enough to cover the full scope of the need at each university. JSU’s portion is a little more than $2 million, Blanton wrote in an email.
For JSU alone, IHL had initially requested $17.8 million in ARPA funds for the university to implement a range of upgrades to its plumbing and sewage systems, such as installing water meters and filtration systems on the service lines for 52 university buildings and replacing a sewer line on Lynch Street.
The request would have also funded a plan “to implement an alternate water supply system to serve the JSU campus.”
JSU has also been seeking to build new dorms to alleviate a waitlist of more than 600 students seeking on-campus housing. At a town hall last month, President Thomas Hudson addressed the university’s housing issues, which he said stemmed from “years of underfunding,” according to a press release.
Hudson said the university is taking a “two-prong approach to this issue” that includes repairing the current on-campus housing and looking to build new dorms in the coming year.
“It’s long overdue for JSU, and it’s long overdue for a new residence hall that meets our growing demand and is more in line with what our students need and want,” Hudson said. “We ask that everyone be patient with us; work with us. We’re going to try and place as many students as we can this year.”
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.