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Sylvester Johnson: Deadline-Driven

October 13, 2005

Mary Ann Travis

Sylvester Johnson is a man with a serious deadline--Dec. 31--looming ahead. By that day, the Tulane uptown campus and buildings must be ready for the spring semester, which begins Jan. 17.

101305_sylvester"Everything revolves around the Dec. 31 deadline," says Johnson, Tulane's associate vice president for facilities services. He has been working almost non-stop since Hurricane Katrina hit to oversee the recovery of the campus.

He started out after the storm with a skeleton crew of 10 Tulane facilities services staff members, assessing the damage and coordinating the efforts of disaster recovery experts from Belfor, a restoration contractor that the university hired to assist in the repair of the campus. The number of Tulane facilities services staff members on campus now stands at approximately 50.

Monroe Residence Hall has been opened to house these staff members, while Johnson continues to stay at the Landmark Hotel in Metairie, La., where he's slept--when he's slept--since the flooding in the hurricane's aftermath. The front campus near St. Charles Avenue primarily suffered minor wind damage from the hurricane, and the campus between Freret Street and Claiborne Avenue was flooded.

Johnson and other Tulane facilities services staff members have prioritized tasks with the hundreds of Belfor team members on campus to "abbreviate" the time it takes to do repairs. Tulane staff members act as guides for the outside contractors, showing them the way around the campus' complex electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems.

Johnson says that 65 to 75 percent of materials in the flooded Howard-Tilton Memorial Library basement have been saved. By using new technology that pumps dry air on bottom levels and chilled air on upper levels, the spread of mold in campus buildings also has been prevented.

What to keep and clean, what to throw away and what to buy new are the kinds of equipment issues that Johnson is dealing with in consultation with insurance companies and Tulane's legal department. The condition of Tulane's campus is improving, but there's more work to do, says Johnson. Still, he's confident that the campus will be ready by January. And he sees a silver lining in the clouds.

"After we get through this, we'll look back and see how much we've grown."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000