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SOWELA works to rebuild after Hurricane Laura

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 2:07 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Hurricane Laura made landfall in Southwest Louisiana just 10 days after SOWELA Technical Community College started their fall semester. Now a month later they’re working to rebuild in order to get students back on campus.

“I can say it’s been nothing that I’ve ever been through before has prepared me for this," Chancellor Dr. Neil Aspinwall said.

It doesn’t take much to notice the damage Hurricane Laura left behind on SOWELA’s campus.

“You see the destruction on our campus," he said. "It’s been overwhelming at times, some days are very frustrating, some days go very easy.”

Dr. Aspinwall said the recovery process isn’t easy. At the start of the semester, SOWELA was adjusting to instructional changes due to COVID-19. Then the hurricane hit; but there’s a plan in place to rebuild within one year.

“We have 13 buildings on our campus and there’s about five of those buildings that we classify that have minor damage," he said. “So, we have already started on that.”

The nursing building on campus is part of phase 1. It’s one of the newer buildings on campus and is considered to have minor damage.

“We have some repair work to do before we can use it so those students have been transferred to our Jennings campus," he said. “So, it’s an inconvenience but one of the things we will do before this year end, I’m very hopeful and optimistic that building will reopen.”

Dr. Aspinwall said the phase 1 buildings should be finished in a month. Phase 2- which is five additional buildings are considered moderate damage. Those buildings are set to be ready in December 2020 or January 2021.

“We still have a lot of work to do but every day I see a little encouraging work, I hear noise behind me, I hear repairs going on so I just tell the students to be patient, bear with us," he said. "SOWELA is not down and out, we’re coming back.”

The buildings in phase 1 and 2 consist of about 95 percent of the buildings on campus. The Arts and Humanities building in addition to the Charleston building on campus are part of phase 3. Both buildings will have to be completely redesigned and rebuilt. But Dr. Apsinwall said if they stick to the schedule both buildings will be finished in August 2021.

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