McNeese takes advantage of opportunities to rebuild in wake of hurricanes

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 12:12 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - McNeese State University sustained multi-million dollar damage to its facilities after the 2020 hurricane season, and some of those structures are being torn down and rebuilt.

Even though the university has seen brighter days, officials say the silver lining of last year’s storms, if there is one, is that they’ve paved the way for more growth and opportunity on campus.

“When daybreak came, the trees were stripped of their leaves,” said Director of Public Relations and University Events, Candice Townsend. “There was glass, roofing material, not just limbs, but things that have blown in from across the street, signage, things that had blown down, and it was that way across campus.”

Mother nature left campus streets impassable and the quad unrecognizable. McNeese leaders say between Laura and Delta, the school was dealt a bill of more than $200 million worth of damage.

“McNeese was hit very hard,” said McNeese Director of Bands Jay Sconyers. “The band, we had to cancel our season.”

“Our new legacy center still needs to be worked on and our basketball arena,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “The canopies of softball and baseball still need to get repaired, so there’s a lot to be done. There’s just a lot to be done on campus.”

The university’s 137 structures took a beating from relentless wind and rain. Sixteen buildings were ripped apart beyond repair.

Farrar Hall was a safe haven for university leaders who stayed behind to weather the storm, but as Laura passed over, the roof was ripped from above their heads, and water poured in.

“The scene was just unbelievable,” Townsend said. “It was just unimaginable damage, but they knew through the night with the sounds they were hearing, and the building began to flex.”

Parts of the football complex press box were torn to shreds, flushing revenue down the drain for the athletic department.

“Not having your facilities completely up and running affects not only revenue, it affects your fan experience. It affects recruiting,” Schroyer said. “I think when you don’t have facilities, it affects everything.”

After the storm, the sun will shine again.

“There was never a doubt in our mind that we would not finish the semester for our students,” Townsend said. “Even though we were only one week into the semester, we knew we had to do that.”

In a time crunch to reopen, they got creative, dividing the campus into seven zones with contractors working each one. Work began in November, and by the spring semester 75 percent of academic buildings and residence halls were reopened.

McNeese leaders say Laura gave the campus an opportunity to improve in a way that will change the footprint.

“For example, Farrar Hall when it’s torn down will be able to enlarge and improve the footprint of the new student union. Taking down the old union is going to allow us to build more on campus housing,” Townsend said. “The Sale Street apartments that were severely damaged that are ours, we are going to take those down.”

The university will operate with several of these facilities out of use this school year.

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