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Dillard University seeks reconstruction assistance

Dillard University in New Orleans, damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, reopened its campus 13 months later. A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Linda Green*
May 23, 2007 | NEW ORLEANS (UMNS)

Dillard University needs carpenters, landscapers, painters and "people to do whatever one does when the ceilings and walls are in disrepair," according to its president.

The United Methodist-related university in New Orleans sustained massive damage when Hurricane Katrina roared across the Gulf Coast almost two years ago. The school is calling on people who know about construction, building codes and compliance to assist it in making its facilities better than before.

Dillard University President
Marvalene Hughes sits
inside the campus chapel.

"One of our goals has been not just to return the facilities to the pre-Katrina status, but to make all the facilities better than they have been," said Marvalene Hughes, Dillard president. The campus grounds also need upgrading to "make them more appealing and a place where students sit and just spend their leisure time simply enjoying the beauty of the campus," she said.

In particular, the school is focusing on remodeling its chapel, which Hughes described as the "heart of this campus."

Campus became a lake

Immediately following the 2005 hurricane, the entire campus was under water for an extensive period. The 136-year-old university is about a quarter of a mile from the levees that broke, and ensuing flooding turned the campus into a lake eight to 10 feet deep.

Three buildings burned down and three others had to be demolished because of water damage, Hughes said. The university rebuilt each remaining building and was able to salvage other structures and declare them usable after "demucking" and certifying them free of mold or other environmental dangers.

In the two years since the hurricane, the university has addressed student housing, classroom space and dining areas and has modified recreational space.

Dillard has been fortunate to "have good insurance through EIIA and has recovered more than $100 million" from its damages, according to Wanda Bigham, the staff member at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry who directly relates to schools, colleges and universities.

EIIA, the Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators Inc., is the risk insurance company available to all of the church's colleges and universities. The company was formed during the 1960s, when a number of historically black colleges and universities related to The United Methodist Church were unable to obtain property coverage from the commercial insurance market. The denomination assisted the colleges by combining their resources and buying insurance as a group.

"My estimation now is that we are about 55 percent back to our normal status, meaning that our construction is back at about that amount and that our student population is about at that number and so are faculty and staff," Hughes said. Dillard reopened on its own campus last September after using a downtown hotel for classrooms and housing.

Prior to Katrina, 1,900 students were enrolled at Dillard, and the enrollment during the spring term that just ended was 1,100 students. "I want to go beyond that. I have a five-year target for that," she said.  

While Dillard has reached its anticipated goal since Katrina, it is preparing to aggressively recruit in order to attract former and new students. "We are continuing our construction, so that the space will be there and the campus will be more attractive than it ever was," Hughes said. A May 18 story in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicates that the enrollment outlook this fall for the colleges and universities in New Orleans is brighter and the institutions expect larger enrollments.

Master plan for rebuilding

The university, its friends and supporters want to build a 21st century campus, Hughes said. Dillard has taken a master plan perspective and invested and raised $15 million to enhance its science labs, nursing labs and public health labs. "It took a lot of money, but we raised it. All of the labs are new," she said.

 Storm debris sits in front of an entrance to Dillard University following the hurricane that left the entire campus under water. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.

The university is ready to enter the second phase of its recovery process, and it is focusing its attention on the chapel, "where the spirit exists" on campus, Hughes said.

Other areas of reconstruction include the administration building and the library. The administrative offices are currently in a rented space in downtown New Orleans.

The chapel is the only building that did not stand in water. Wind and rain damage to the roof allowed water into the building.


"The chapel needs a lot of internal remodeling and painting and doing whatever one does when the ceilings and walls are in disrepair," Hughes said. In addition to being a worship facility, the chapel is also used for classroom and meeting activities.

"Even to get it back as it was will cost a lot of money for the interior, and then to move it to the stage where we really want it to be will cost about $2.6 million," she said. It also needs gardeners and painters, she added.

Insurance covered the cost of the chapel's roof but not the building's interior, according to Hughes. After engaging in an architectural bidding process, "we discovered that we are about $2 million off, so it (remodeling) is on hold," she said.

Prayers and funds needed

The denomination's support is needed in restoring the chapel to its role as the hub of the university, officials said.

"The chapel needs extensive renovation and I believe the love and labor of United Methodist VIM teams could really bless the school and students," said Cynthia Hopson, director of the Black College Fund and Ethnic Concerns, the local church apportionment fund that supports the African-American academic institutions related to The United Methodist Church.

She encourages United Methodists to "pray, send money and students so the school can return to its previous glory" and she expressed "confidence that rebuilding Dillard will be a critical part of a renaissance in New Orleans."

Bigham agrees. "I think a great deal of the growth in enrollment in future years will be linked to the recovery of New Orleans."

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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