POPLARVILLE - The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation has awarded Pearl River Community College $286,270 to upgrade its Wellness Center and construct an outdoor walking track. The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation provides targeted grants to improve the health of Mississippians. The grant for the Wellness Enhancement Initiative will allow PRCC to replace all of the equipment in the Wellness Center, which served more than 2,500 students, faculty, staff and area residents during the 2010-11 academic year. "The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation is focused on providing resources and funding to continue our commitment to a healthier Mississippi," said Sheila B. Grogan, Executive Director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. "We are excited about the health and wellness initiatives being implemented by Pearl River Community College that will foster a healthier environment for the college and surrounding community." PRCC is the first community college to receive a grant from the foundation, she said. PRCC established the Wellness Center in 1996. In addition to providing a safe exercise environment for the college and the community, it also houses the college's Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Pearl River Community College has been presented with a unique opportunity to enhance its Wellness Center programming with this very special funding from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation," said Dr. William Lewis, PRCC president. "The college's Wellness Center was among the first of its kind in Mississippi and has as its purpose the promotion of a healthy lifestyle for students and members of the community. "The opportunity presented by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation will enable the college to enrich its current wellness offerings as well as create new programming options. This is indeed a most positive opportunity for our students and the community." The walking track, about a mile in length, will be built behind the the Wellness Center/Nursing Building and will circle an existing small lake. Much of the work will be done by instructors and students in PRCC's construction equipment and utility lineman programs as well as the college's physical plant staff, Lewis said. The brick masonry program may also be involved in construction of comfort stations. The grant agreement calls for the track to be completed in nine months, making it available for the fall 2012 semester. Wellness Center users will welcome the new equipment since budget constraints have limited the college to purchasing refurbished equipment, said Tara Rouse, Wellness Center director and chair of the health, physical education and recreation department. Much of the equipment is out-dated and repair parts are no longer available. "This is going to help with safety with the new up-to-date, ergonomically-correct equipment," she said. "It's also going to motivate and engage all of our students and community members." The new equipment will include fitness tracking capability which will assist Wellness Center users and staff in assessing results of exercise programs, she said. "With all the new technology, they can move their workouts to the next level," Rouse said. "Our goal is to not only increase participation and members but to improve the overall well_being of the community."