President Evans offers support for Lamar’s affected
In the aftermath of tropical storm Imelda, LU President Kenneth Evans said that the short-term goals of the university are purely student, faculty and staff focused.
“We have a team of people that are contacting the students, identifying what their issues are, and then trying to help them address them in a way that they can continue to stay focused on progressing toward their degree plan,” he said.
“We’ve had, as of (Tuesday), 542 students that have reported that they have been impacted by the storm in some capacity, whether their car was lost, they had internet-related challenges, they lost their books, their housing was damaged, they lost a computer, they need some assistance in tuition because they either lost their job or they’re not able to get to their job because they lost their car, etc. And then we’re working with the students to try and help find solutions.”
Evans said that by the night of Sept. 18, it was clear that the storm was going to have a major impact on the Lamar community.
“When it was raining all night, Wednesday night and into Thursday morning, I knew we were going to have a problem,” he said. “I could not drive out of the street that I live on, so I had to wait for the chief of police with a large dual-rim truck that could come by and get me, and we were able to survey the campus and assess the damage.”
As of press time, the estimated damage costs to the campus are upwards of $1 million, Evans said.
“Cleanup is going to be approximately $500,000-plus,” he said. “Repairs could be upwards of about a $1 million, maybe slightly larger, and then there are obviously mitigation costs beyond that, that I can’t give a figure on yet.”
Evans said that, at this point, the damage costs Imelda has brought are comparable to those brought on by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
While some building repairs have already begun, others will have to wait until hurricane season is over at the end of November.
“There are just some roofs that are simply unable to continue to operate the way they are at this point, and we’ll have to prepare to replace them,” Evans said. “You tend to do (replacements) during the winter months and parts of the summer.”
After Harvey devastated Southeast Texas two years ago, Lamar implemented measures to better assist students, faculty and staff in times of crisis.
“There’s a fundraising arm that immediately reaches out to supporters of the institution to try to secure funds to help defer costs,” Evans said. “We also have the capability of providing some rooms in the residence halls at a very modest cost on a short-stay basis or longer, depending on what the needs are of the students, faculty and staff.
“We also provide counseling and support for individuals who are dealing with the stresses that are associated with having another major storm event in two years. We also assembled shuttle services and other support for transportation after Harvey.”
Evans said that the university is also deferring the first payment of the fall semester to lessen the burden on students.
The school is using Blackboard to make it possible for students to access the curriculum during periods of time when they could not be on campus, Evans said.
“Some of that was in play before Harvey, but more of it has been play after Harvey because we just simply got better at it and were able to more effectively deploy the solution strategies that we have in place,” he said
University enrollment has been affected by Imelda, but so far the numbers are not too perilous, Evans said.
“There’s no question that if you were in a home that had been flooded twice now, and you’re trying to piece together a solution for how you’re going to take care of that, it would be reasonable to assume that you would be putting that as a priority as opposed to, maybe, your education,” he said. “We’re going to try to do everything we can to keep that student somehow engaged.”
Evans said it may involve lessening work and class loads to be sure students can continue to progress toward their degree program.
While natural disasters like Imelda have an impact on student retention, there are still plenty of opportunities in Southeast Texas that will attract people to Lamar, Evans said.
“We have flooding in the Golden Triangle area constantly, and the reality is that this area is a driving influence in the petrochemical industry of Southeast Texas,” he said. “Because of that, it’s populated by people who live here who work in that industry and they need education, they need services and they need healthcare — they need all the things that we provide to make those industries possible.
“I’d argue that there will be some people that are frustrated and may decide that they’ve had enough, but there are also going to be people that are going to be looking at the opportunity that this area presents and they’re going to be seeking a way to be a part of that experience.”
Lamar is wired into about five different weather services and remains vigilant all year round in monitoring storm activity, Evans said.
“We send out alerts and we provide people updates on what weather patterns we’re seeing developing that might be potentially an issue,” he said. “We’re managing whatever events we’re trying to plan here at the institution, and we’re thoughtful of what that weather might do to those events and then have punt positions. So whether we’ve got to move inside as opposed to having an event that was outside, or, more importantly, in the event of something like this, that we’re prepared for the possibility of significant water effects that might result in some major changes to what we’re doing operationally.”
Evans said Tuesday that there are no major changes to the Homecoming schedule, aside from the first day kickoff event, Monday.
“We were supposed to do an event with the city council and that just wasn’t going to work out,” he said. “The city was shut down and it just didn’t make sense because some services were shut down.
“For the rest of Homecoming, you’ve got to stay focused on the positive and move forward.”
Evans said that he is thoughtful and compassionate towards the challenges that students, faculty and staff may be facing.
“It tears me up,” he said. “On that same token, I’m optimistic about the future of the institution and there’s always an opportunity for the sunlight to shine to the clouds, and we will find that sunlight. We always go forward.”
Olivia Malick, UP editor