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Houston univ. adjusts to Ike’s disruption

HOUSTON (BP)–It has been good to get back into the routine of campus life at Houston Baptist University, said Martha Morrow, HBU assistant vice president for communications. Students have completed two weeks of classes since Hurricane Ike and HBU administrators and staff have relocated to new quarters.

“We’re doing great,” Morrow reported. “The support and prayers we’ve gotten from across the country is great.”

One form of support came in the form of a $10,000 contribution from the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. SBTC President Jim Richards personally delivered the check as he visited the campus Sept. 26 to get a firsthand view of the damage.

In a posting on his weblog, HBU President Robert Sloan wrote, “Dr. Richards, thank you from the HBU family! Thank you and the Southern Baptists of Texas for thinking of our needs during this time of recovery and adjustment.”

Staff with offices in the heavily damaged Brown Administrative Complex have been relocated across the campus. A list of the temporary locations is posted on university’s www.HBU.edu website.

“My staff and I are in a nice little trailer — all seven of us. It’s cozy,” Morrow laughed about the situation, commenting that everyone has been very accommodating about the temporary arrangements, such as the student newspaper. It had just moved into a new building this year and is now back at its former offices in order to accommodate the shift in administration locations.

How temporary the rearrangements may be is still an unknown. Morrow said final structural assessments and cost analyses have not been completed. Initial estimates reported $8-10 million in damage throughout the campus, with the hardest hit structures being the M.D. Anderson Student Center and the Brown Administrative Complex. It is likely the university will initiate a fundraising campaign to pay for any expenses not covered by insurance, Morrow said.

HBU was fortunate that residential buildings and facilities housing classrooms received minimal to no damage and were up and running once power was restored, Morrow said.

Classes resumed Sept. 22. Faculty members readily shifted back into their routines, getting the students back on task after missing a week of instruction. Morrow said the teachers are accustomed to working within a more concentrated time frame because the campus, until this year, operated on the quarter system. Having switched to the semester system this year, Morrow said, gives teachers more flexibility to make up for lost time.

Students who left town and had not returned by the restart date need not worry about absence penalties, Sloan noted on his blog.

“I want to reassure them that we understand these are unusual circumstances and our guiding principle is grace,” he wrote.

Morrow said HBU’s student life staff is becoming aware of the financial needs of some students whose families suffered losses during the storm. In order to avert a financial crisis that could result in a student dropping out of the university, a special fund has been established in an effort to meet those needs. Information about the “Student Success Fund” can be found on the HBU website homepage via the “Hurricane Ike” link.

Despite sporadic power outages in the resident halls during the first week back after Ike, Morrow said the campus is very fortunate to be in the situation it is today.

“We have our challenges,” she said. “But you don’t have to look too far and you can see someone who has a lot more devastation.”

About 65 percent of the student population is from the greater Houston area and therefore had the opportunity to evacuate to homes or leave the region with family. Other students left with those who had a place to go, but about 50 students remained on the campus throughout the storm, Morrow said. Student life staff members and campus police stayed with the students in the new Morris Cultural Arts building. No one was harmed.

“When the iPods and cell phones ran out of juice, they kind of had to talk to each other and bonded,” Morrow said.
Bonnie Pritchett is a writer based in Houston.

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