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No more room to grow? UL looks for space; see photo gallery of UL construction

Campus out of land with nonstop growth

Starting today, UL will add about 16,000 people to its campus as students start the first day of the fall semester.

The population and its infrastructure make the campus a city within itself, but as Lafayette continues to grow outward, UL officials worry that the same won’t be possible for the university.

“We’re OK for the next 10 years,” said Tom Sammons, a UL architecture professor, who leads students as they tackle smart growth planning projects for cities in Acadiana, most recently Delcambre and Cameron. “But the fair question in the next 10 to 20 years is: How will the university grow? That’s a big issue for us.”

The university owns a total of 1,390 acres, 137 of those are on its main campus. Its original quad and a new one its developing are the only greenspace on the main campus.

One hundred years ago, space wasn’t an issue. Sammons said around 1912, the university was on the outskirts of the city and by 1953, South College was just a gravel road.

“Cities are expanding. The university’s the same as a city, a city based on nature of learning,” Sammons said. “We have room for maybe two to three academic buildings and new dorms. After that, we will have to find options of expanding our campus proper.”

This semester, students will return again to construction on campus. For the past few years, they have had to skirt around bulldozers and construction crews to get to classes.

Newer buildings — the computer science building that opened in the spring, a new business college facility and renovations and expansion of the library — offer curb appeal. But it’s more than that. University officials say construction is necessary for the campus to continue to thrive.

UL President Ray Authement says he knows the university has lost some students because of the state of some of its facilities. The lack of popular apartment-style housing has also prevented some students from registering, he said.

Too many years of deferred maintenance after the oil bust in the mid-80s shows on the inside and outside of campus buildings. Some dorms remain closed because its cheaper to lock the doors than repair them.

Funding has been an issue. It took more than 20 years for funding to be secured for renovations and an expansion that have crews working on Burke-Hawthorne Hall on Hebrard Boulevard in the center of campus.

That expansion and renovation will squeeze the building close to its neighbors — Wharton Hall and Judice-Rickels Hall. The grassy areas and sidewalks that offered an easy shortcut from the Student Union to St. Mary or Hebrard boulevards are gone.

“My feeling is we’re building buildings too close to other buildings,” Authement said.

 

Bricks, mortar, students

Until the opening of Moody Hall for the business college in 2004, the campus had not seen a new academic classroom building on its campus since 1988 with Rougeou Hall.

In fall 1988, campus enrollment was 15,037 students. Since that time, the university phased in selective admissions, but has maintained about 16,000 students on its campus.

But are bricks and mortar necessary to build enrollment?

Yes, according to Authement, especially when you’re trying to recruit the state’s brightest students.

“It’s possible that kids are going to be enticed to other places because of the lack of facilities,” Authement said. “Other campus are building student apartment complexes. Some are building parking garages. I think we’ll continue to be attractive because of our academic programs. Those students not interested in strong academic programs, but enticed by the campus life they see on television — we’ll lose those.”

In recent years, improvements on campus have been paid for by students with fees for such things as a new aquatics center, and money from fees is accumulating for a new student union.

The university is focusing on developing the south side of campus with a new quadrangle where the old football stadium once stood. The new computer science building is the first tenant in the new quad. The arts college annex and an annex for the engineering college will follow. While there will still be room to fit more buildings in the space, the university wants to preserve greenspace for the new quad as another gathering place for students on that side of campus.

“It’s all part of an experience for students on campus,” said Bill Crist, UL physical plant director.

 

Housing a priority

The university will tear down 40 graduate housing units to make room for three new apartment-like housing units at its Legacy Park apartment complex. And a future plan is to demolish two traditional residence halls — Denbo and Bancroft — to build more. But the money hasn’t been allocated for that project.

Housing isn’t just a student issue.

“We are concerned that there’s a dire need for housing for faculty,” Authement said. “Housing is expensive in Lafayette. They’re blown away by the price of rentals and houses. We have had several faculty recruits come in and turn us down.”

Also pressing, according to Authement, is the need to upgrade UL’s nursing college. The college currently shares a four-story building with the broadcast program and biology department.

“The nursing building is overpopulated and needs to be modernized,” Authement said. “I’m not saying that — it’s the dean, her faculty and the accrediting agencies. That will be a problem.”

While Authement announced his retirement in late spring, he said it’s his intention to continue pushing ahead with possible solutions. One of those will likely be leveraging its 100 acres of property on Johnston Street that sits unused.

 

Landlocked

Some buildings, Authement has said, could be torn down to make way for new academic buildings — DeClouet Hall and even the president’s home.

The university also owns 148 acres in its research park off Congress Street near the Cajundome, with 76 acres undeveloped. But Authement has said its not feasible for the university to build out any student services — housing or academic buildings — away from its main campus.

According to Crist and Authement, the university’s experiment of building Bourgeois Hall wasn’t as successful as planned. The hall houses recreational and fitness classes and the education college’s kinesiology department. It sits near the university’s athletic complex and within walking distance of Cajun Field parking lot for the UL transit system.

“We built Bourgeois to spread the campus out,” Crist said. “We found that students weren’t using the bus transportation, but still driving instead.”

The university now schedules classes at Bourgeois at least two hours apart to allow students time to get there. While it’s a short distance, crossing Johnston Street is necessary to get to the hall and its research park.

Crist pointed to a city map and held one finger over Bourgeois Hall and the other at the border of the campus gate at St. Mary Boulevard.

“On LSU’s campus a walk here to here is within their campus boundaries,” Crist said. “As short as this is, it’s a major obstacle to overcome. Johnston Street is such a barrier to people.”

One way that the university is trying to overcome this is by building a bike path on its property that will connect its Research Park to the main campus. While bike paths run along Johnston Street, this project will be set away from any roadway and be built on university property. The first phase, which costs $600,000, will extend through greenspace along Cajundome Boulevard and follow university property along Johnston Street to the Ira Nelson Horticulture Center.

The second phase will pick up at East Lewis Street and continue to the Student Union. There’s another $600,000 allotted for that project. The
project is funded by an enhancement grant from the Department of Transportation and Development.

There’s not a timeline of when the project will begin, but the construction documents on the first phase are complete, Sammons said.

While the university is encouraging students to use alternative transportation, it also provides a transit system with free parking at Cajun Field. The university’s first parking garage is nearing completion. The structure sits in the corner of another greenspace that served as the band’s practice field.

 

What’s next?

Nick Bruno, University of Louisiana System vice president of facilities and finance, said many urban campuses are having difficulty finding room to expand.

“Many see campuses as an oasis in the city,” Bruno said. “They become a vital part of the community. Density is the issue. You could look at it from one perspective and say: ‘There’s a block of land to put a building in.’ But is it the best thing for the students? For the community?”

Recently, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux acquired more than 70 new acres of property to build its new culinary institute, a recreation center and more student housing. The deal took years to finalize with the land acquired only after the state stepped in to handle negotiations and mediation of the property.

As UL searches for a new president to replace Authement the landlocked campus will be an issue. But Authement isn’t waiting for the new president to get the ball rolling on other needed projects, including finding a buyer for the horse farm property.

Authement said he’ll likely bring a request about the property to the board in October.

“There’s a lot of interest in it and it could turn out the right way. That all sides of the issue will be happy,” Authement said.

The horse farm property on Johnston Street has been the subject of much debate with a community group, Save the Horse Farm, pushing for an alternative to the space being developed. The group fostered efforts among Authement, the city and a national conservation organization, Trust for Public Land to preserve the property as a city park. The nonprofit helps cities acquire property for public use.

On Thursday, Authement said that the conservation group and the city “are not the only interested parties.”

When questioned, Authement would not comment further.

The last time Authement brought a proposal about the land to the board was in 2005. That deal would have traded about a third of the property to developers in exchange for two residences on Girard Park Drive owned by the Davidson Family.
Authement hasn’t made secret that the Davidson property is still in the university’s sights.

Initially, he said the property was needed for faculty residences, which the university is also lacking. But in an interview Thursday said that in the future, the site would be a prime location for a new nursing building “down the road.”

“I had an idea once that it could go closer to the hospital. I won’t say which one,” Authement said. “There were 4.3 acres available that could be occupied. We’ll have to look at that and look at other space.”

 Zoom Photo

Brad Kemp/bkemp@theadvertiser.com

Tuu Nguyen with BEO Construction scrapes a wall before painting last week during the renovation of Burke Hall on the UL campus.

College classes start today

Fall semester classes start at Louisiana Technical College, South Louisiana Community College and UL.

UL Welcome Week
• Monday — 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Free doughnuts and fruit at corner of Rex and St. Mary Boulevard.
• Tuesday — 10:30 a.m. Greek Affairs giveaway on Rex; 7:30 p.m. Dive-In movie at the Student Aquatic Center.
• Wednesday — 10 a.m. Get on Board Day in Quad to learn about campus organizations and voter registration drive.
• Friday — 7:30 a.m. Free breakfast in the quad; 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Block party on Rex Street.

SLCC Fall Welcome
activities
• Friday — 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Welcome coffee and snacks for students at Lafayette and New Iberia campuses.
• Sept. 6 — 8 a.m. to noon. Student organization fair and recruiting on Lafayette campus.
• Sept. 7 — 8 a.m. to noon. Student organization fair and recruiting on New Iberia campus.
• Sept. 21 — 11:30 a.m. to
1 p.m. SLCC Fall Fest event with food, music and conversation in Lafayette and New Iberia.

   Zoom Photo


Brad Kemp/bkemp@theadvertiser.com

Construction continues on the renovation of Burke Hall at UL.

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