December 7, 2006
Carol J. Schlueter
The pop of a bigger-than-life champagne bottle burst blue and green streamers into the sky as Tulane University celebrated the dedication of its sleek new Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life on Wednesday (Dec. 6), but along with a toast to the Lavin and Bernick families came a surprise twist.
The occasion was already a joyous one for the entire university community, which has been without a university center for the three years of the rebuilding project. Its completion and reopening to the campus in early January will make the center a major symbol of Tulane's renewal after Hurricane Katrina.
Carol Lavin Bernick, whose family members made the building project possible through a generous gift, during the event delivered more good news that completely surprised Tulane President Scott Cowen.
"We decided to take an additional step," Bernick said -- a new gift of $1 million from the Lavin Family Foundation to endow the Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives.
As the crowd in the brand new lecture hall stood and applauded, Cowen wiped away tears with the celebratory white kerchief that was especially designed for "second-lining" into the new structure for the dedication ceremony.
The institute will coordinate all educational reform efforts at Tulane for students and others who want to "make a difference" and improve the K-12 education system in New Orleans, Bernick added.
"This sits at the heart of what our family wants to accomplish and what Scott wants to achieve," she said, citing Cowen's "passion, effort, commitment and heart" in working on behalf of education. Tulane helped establish the Lusher Charter School in the area near its uptown campus to provide K-12 education to the children of neighborhood residents and Tulane's own employees. Cowen also headed a city rebuilding task force on the public education system and has been an outspoken advocate of reforming New Orleans' troubled public education system.
Cowen said he was deeply appreciative of what the gift "will do for young kids," adding, "If there's anything that Tulane University can do, that would be something very important in their lives."
The real honor should go to the people of Tulane, he added. "It's all the faculty, staff and students who are the heroes. We would not be here without them."
Opening the ceremony along with Bernick and Board of Tulane chair Philip Greer, Cowen pointed out that just 15 months ago, a river of water two-feet deep, courtesy of Katrina, was where the event audience stood.
Greer called the ceremony "a very historic occasion for the university that marks the renewal of the university and the city of New Orleans."
As the eager crowd streamed into the building for the first time, heads were turning to take in the open, airy interior with its environmentally advanced features. While much of its furniture is still to come and construction won't be complete for another 30 days, the center seemed to impress its first visitors. Designed by Vincent James Associates Architects, the reconstructed building has 142,000 square feet, nearly 50 percent larger than the original structure built in 1959.
Three generations of the Lavin and Bernick families were present for the event: Carol Lavin Bernick; her children, including senior Tulane student Lizzy Bernick; and Carol Bernick's 87-year-old father, Leonard Lavin. Founders of the Chicago-based Alberto-Culver, the family made the donations through the Lavin Family Foundation. Carol Bernick is chairman of the board for the company, a 1974 Tulane alumna and a member of the Board of Tulane.
Medical student Sara Dwyer, president of the Associated Student Body, spoke for students in the ceremony, saying, "This building is a gift to the entire Tulane University community. We cannot wait to make it our own."
A special week of celebrations is planned when students return for the spring semester on Jan. 16 and the new center, unofficially christened "the LBC" by Carol Bernick, opens for use by the entire campus.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org