January 18, 2006
After Katrina, yet another unwelcomed visitor arrived on campus -- mold, creeping up the walls of damp rooms, flourishing in the 90-degree weather and 90 percent humidity that makes New Orleans summers so much like, well, New Orleans.
It wasn't long, however, before something besides mold and the amazingly resilient squirrels began to stir -- workers, sometimes as many as 800 of them, swarming uptown and downtown buildings, moving between noisy generators and bright yellow tubes that pumped cool, dry air into buildings.
A recovery team of Tulane facilities administrators, accompanied by experts from Belfor Recovery Services -- hired by Tulane to handle the recovery work -- went room-to-room, assessing damage and prioritizing demolition, mold remediation and reconstruction. Belfor, an international disaster mitigation company, came highly recommended by the University of Miami, where they were wrapping up repairs from a Category 1 hurricane that hit earlier in the season. Belfor had also worked with Tulane after less-serious flooding in May 1995.
The process began in Houston, where Tulane's newly designated recovery team, led on the Tulane side by Sylvester Johnson, associate vice president for facilities services, sat with Belfor representatives Mitchell Parks and Art Newman, poring over maps of campus. Johnson's team of Tulane staff included architect Larry Smith, director of facilities services architecture and engineering divisions; Karen Henley, director of facilities management; Shawn Lege, project and field operations manager; Heather Hargrave, director of facilities administration; and Mike Jester, director of capital projects.
Less than two weeks after the hurricane, work crews stood in front of Gibson Hall, faced with mountains of downed tree limbs and broken glass that prevented access to the uptown campus.
"The first thing we did was Band-aid the buildings to prevent more damage, and clean up debris," said Smith, who adds that his team did "'two years' worth of work in three months." Managing access to rooms and buildings has been "a little bit of a nightmare" according to Smith, with a constant stream of inspectors, contractors, mold remediators and insurance adjusters needing access to nearly every room.
Generally, the teams worked from the St. Charles Avenue side of campus to Claiborne Avenue, although buildings were prioritized for attention based on their contents and the amount of work they would need to be open in January.
The libraries, hard hit and containing irreplaceable documents, took priority. The Amistad Research Center, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Jones Hall and the Caroline Richardson Building were the first to go on "life support" -- dry, cold air was pumped in by generator to prevent mold growth in the upper floors and allow workers to retrieve damaged documents, many of which are now frozen and awaiting a cleaning and restoration process in Fort Worth, Texas.
The recovery team cleaned and provided generator power to the Gibson Hall basement to house National Guard troops who, in return, provided security for the campus and access to high-water vehicles. Because of the lack of hotel space and a curfew in the city, Tulane and Belfor workers faced lengthy, daily commutes from outside New Orleans, some coming from as far away as Lafayette, La., and Vicksburg, Miss. Arrangements eased as hotels opened and finally Monroe Hall, cleaned and reconstructed, housed 500 workers. The quad by the University Center became an orderly maze of office trailers for Belfor supervisors, insurance adjusters and risk-management experts.
Throughout the process, controlling indoor climate was crucial. Parks recalls 95-degree days with 80 percent humidity through September -- more than enough to encourage mold growth -- so even dry buildings received infusions of cool, dry air until air conditioning could be restored.
Work crews swept through campus in waves. The first wave replaced or boarded up windows and made repairs to damaged roofs. The lack of rain between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made their work easier. The second wave of workers introduced air to the buildings and the third wave demolished all wet or moldy materials. Once cleared by environmental health experts, the fourth wave of reconstruction began.
Technical Environmental Services (TES), a local company, came in to develop the protocol for mold remediation and to test indoor air quality before reconstruction. Once spaces were cleared and cleaned, they were tested for mold particles using the same standard for environmental health that the university had in place before the hurricane.
As the uptown campus underwent remediation and reconstruction, teams were also at work on the health sciences center campus in downtown New Orleans. (The National Primate Research Center, located on 500 acres in the piney woods north of Lake Ponchartrain, had suffered little flooding or wind damage to buildings and was already back in full operation.) The health sciences center campus took a heavy hit from the post-Katrina flooding. Led by Earl Bihlmeyer, vice president of operations and facilities services, and Mike Guidry, facilities director -- both employees at the health sciences center -- the downtown recovery teams applied the same process being used uptown.
Despite the damage, Bihlmeyer and Guidry stay positive about the disaster and recovery process. "There is some good to come out of all this because we had already been looking at ways to make the downtown campus more energy efficient, so where we have had to replace mechanical or electrical equipment we've been able to do it with the goal of ultimately reducing costs," Bihlmeyer said.
He estimates the new energy-efficient appliances will save $1.5 million a year. Throughout campus recovery, administrators say Tulane has made changes that will have long-term impact: healthy spaces, energy-efficient replacements for mechanical and electrical gear, and placement of crucial equipment to make it less vulnerable to flooding.
In many ways, the campuses also will be safer. Bihlmeyer said greater security is planned for building entrances and exits as they rebuild. "The campus is ready for students, and it looks good," said Jester. "There is going to be some finishing work that will carry over, but the campus is safe and functional for the students to come back."
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org