When complete in fall 2012, the Donna and Paul Flower Hall for Research and Innovation will make Tulane University an even bigger player in the economic development of the Gulf Coast region.
July 8, 2011: Seven years ago, Paul Flower established his first faculty chair at the university he loves. This summer, he will begin building a brand-new facility to hold it.
A New Orleans native "raised in the end zone of Tulane stadium" by his football-playing father, Henry Flower, Paul earned a master's in engineering from Tulane in the early 1970s and went to work for the local firm of Carl E. Woodward Inc. Paul later bought the company, now known as Woodward Design+Build, and in the early 2000s joined the board of the School of Engineering, keen on the idea of creating more professorships to attract top-quality faculty members to Tulane, such as the Paul and Donna Flower Early Career Professorship he founded in 2004.
At that time, the university had begun a fundraising campaign to begin renovations for the outmoded Dr. Francis M. Taylor Laboratory, but Hurricane Katrina the following year shifted the entire university's priorities from renovating to reopening, and then restructuring, and Taylor Lab was put on hold. Dean Nicholas Altiero was tasked with merging the science departments and the engineering departments into an integrated School of Science and Engineering, and although Paul's field, civil engineering, was eliminated, Paul said he was impressed by the creativity and thoughtfulness Altiero put into the task.
"I watched him start building the school, and I thought he was creating something unique and innovative," Paul said. "It could not only help the school out, but also be a benefit to the economy of the city."
If you build it, they will come
The campaign to hire junior faculty members to the new combined school went smoothly, but Altiero had trouble filling two senior positions, both already endowed: the chair of the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and the Jung chair in Materials Engineering. For Altiero, the final straw came when the school's top candidate for the CBE chair toured the Taylor Lab, got a look at the renovation plan, and was so unimpressed that she simply turned the job down. In early 2010, Altiero and Yvette Jones, executive vice president for university relations and development, took that news to Paul.
"We basically told him, we've got the positions, but we're not going to be able to get those kind of people to come here if we don't have the proper kinds of laboratories," Altiero said.
Paul dived in, committing to design, build and pay for much of the project. Though the original plan called for a two-story building with classrooms on the first floor and laboratories above, further study of the university's facilities showed the need for two more floors for future growth. No research space had been added to the uptown campus since the opening of the Merryl and Sam Israel Jr. Environmental Sciences Building in the 1990s, Jones noted. During the Thanksgiving holidays, the university received the key to adding that space to the project: Jones received word that the Dr. Irwin Frankel, a distinguished Tulane alumnus, had left the School of Science and Engineering a major unrestricted gift in his will.
"I asked Nick, 'What are you going to do with it?'" Jones recalled. "He said, 'What do you think I'm going to do with it?'"
Serving New Orleans and beyond
In addition to fulfilling Flower's goal of helping the university attract faculty, the Paul and Donna Flower Hall for Research and Innovation is also designed to realize Paul's vision of making Tulane a more important player in the economic development of the Gulf region.
With the university's renewed focus on entrepreneurship and social impact, the building will provide Tulane scientists the space and opportunity to begin pursuing not only scientific innovation, but also intellectual property with real commercial value.
"If the building helps bring a top-flight researcher, that will give the students access to additional good mentors," Flower said.
Taylor Lab is now empty. Utilities are being rerouted, and test pilings have been driven. Demolition is slated to begin in August, and plans call for Flower Hall to open in fall 2012.
In the meantime, the project has already fulfilled Flower's dream of bringing new faculty to Tulane. In mid-June, Altiero finally hired a new chemical and biomolecular engineering chair—Professor Anne Robinson from the University of Delaware, the same professor who declined to head the department when it was slated to be housed in Taylor Lab.
"You're getting all these great faculty members and all these great students—you've got to have a 21st-century facility," Altiero said. "We're building an environment in which these faculty members and these students we're attracting to Tulane can be successful."
R.M. Morris is a writer in the Office of Development.
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