Road to Recovery: After the storms, Sowela will be ‘pretty much a new campus’

Published 4:41 am Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Sowela Technical Community College’s hurricane repairs are 95 percent complete. The campus — which sustained damage to nearly every building — recently opened one of its most heavily damaged facilities, the Arts and Humanities Building, Neil Aspinwall, chancellor, said.

“It was really our poster child for Hurricane Laura. It was destroyed and torn down to the foundation and steel frame.”

The 40,000-square-foot facility took 12 months to rebuild and reopened this semester, which began three weeks ago.

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“It’s not 100 percent complete yet,” Aspinwall said, as the library is still being completed and scheduled to open within the next few weeks, but classrooms and offices are complete and hosting students and faculty.

The rest of the campus’ buildings that were being repaired are fully open with only a few punch list items remaining, Aspinwall said.

“They’re doing some minor final finishes and touches but all of those are being used.”

Sowela’s Calcasieu Building, however, was “too damaged to rebuild” and will have to be completely torn down and rebuilt. Architects and engineers finished designing the facility last week, Aspinwall said, and it will likely take 16-18 months to complete the 45,000-square-foot rebuild once progress begins.

“We’re waiting on a FEMA decision, but regardless, the state has committed to rebuilding the Calcasieu Building.”

One of the original building’s on campus, the Calcasieu Building, has “lived beyond its lifespan,” Aspinwall said.

The new building will include four new biology and chemistry labs, new workforce areas for HVAC and non-destructive testing, an entirely new IT area and student break-lounge areas.

In addition to the buildings being repaired and renovated throughout the campus, even the landscaping has received or will receive a face-lift as progress continues.

“Yes, the damage was disheartening in some ways but in some ways not,” he said.

“Many of our buildings have never had this much attention. Basically everything here has been rebuilt. It’s pretty much a new campus.”

Work has not halted Sowela’s pre-hurricane plans of opening a new 30,000-plus square-foot Culinary, Hospitality and Gaming facility.

“We are confident that building will open in the summer,” Aspinwall said.

Featuring workforce and business programs, gaming, hospitality, culinary classrooms and a new, much-larger restaurant, the newest building will give students a true taste of working in the hospitality industry.

“When you pull up, it’s meant to look like a really nice resort,” he said, with an interior to match.

Construction isn’t the only thing moving along on campus, he added.

“I’m happy to say last semester and this semester we have more students than we did last year. We’re not back to where we were at our 2019 baseline but we’re getting close.”