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NOBTS turns attention to housing for single students

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary campus master plan took a major step forward on Dec. 2 when the board of trustees’ executive committee approved a new suite-style apartment complex for single students. Construction is set to begin in January.

“We are trying to eat an elephant one bite at a time,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “In preparing our campus master plan, the architects told us that nearly all campus housing needed to be replaced. We are delighted to turn our attention to our single students.”

Last year, the seminary opened three new apartment buildings for married students with multiple children. Another apartment building for married students with children reopened in October after a complete renovation and new hotel-style rooms for extension center students who come to campus for intensive courses will be open in January. With these projects complete, single student housing has become a pressing need on campus.

NOBTS has been experiencing dramatic grow over the past few years, with single students playing a significant role in this growth. Kelley announced to trustees that last year’s enrollment was the largest in NOBTS history.

The new suite-style apartment complex will house 120 students. Each apartment suite will include a common kitchen, living room, two semi-private baths and four private bedrooms. The new apartments will give single students more housing options. Currently, single students must choose between dorm rooms or off-campus seminary apartments.

Chris Friedmann, associate vice president of operations at NOBTS, assembled two student focus groups to review the architects’ plans for the complex. According to seminary officials, the focus groups were excited about the designs and offered a number of suggestions to Friedmann and the architects.

“Both singles groups we met with were very excited about the plans for the new singles’ housing units, especially in regards to the two semi-private baths and kitchens that will be in each apartment,” Friedmann said. “They asked many questions and made numerous suggestions, some of which have been incorporated into the project. Our time with them was invaluable in helping us to make this new housing the best it can be.”

The construction will be made possible by the impending sale of the seminary’s two off-campus apartment buildings — Gentilly and Elysian. The seminary administration insisted on certain conditions of sale to help students transition to campus housing.

The buyer of the Elysian Apartments agreed to rent only to seminary students until June 1, 2004. Seminary students will be able to rent apartments at Elysian at the current rate through Jan. 31, 2005. The Gentilly Apartments may only be rented to seminary students through Dec. 31, 2005. Seminary students will receive discounted rent at the complex through Dec. 31, 2007.

“We are committed to making the transition as smooth as possible for the students,” said Ken Keathley, NOBTS dean of students. “We will work to accommodate those who wish to move from the Elysian Fields apartments to the Gentilly apartments, which several married students might wish to do. There will also be a priority placed on the requests of single students who want to move to the new singles housing complex when it is ready.”

Crews will begin clearing and preparing the construction site for the singles housing complex in January. The facility is expected to be open for occupancy in January 2005.

In other business, the executive board named Don Stewart professor emeritus of New Testament and Greek. Stewart, who retired in July, served the seminary in various capacities for 25 years.

After earning master’s and doctoral degrees at NOBTS, Stewart taught at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Miss., for 15 years. He returned to NOBTS to serve as executive vice president under Landrum P. Leavell II. In addition to his work as professor of New Testament and Greek and executive vice president, Stewart served as director of the doctor of ministry program and oversaw the seminary extension center system.

“Teaching is the thing I’ve enjoyed most of all that I’ve done,” Stewart said. “God called me to minister to people and to teach people, not to teach subjects. I’ve always tried to do that and it’s been very gratifying.”

Kelley said Stewart has been “one of the most faithful and dedicated administrators and teachers this school has ever had.”

For Stewart, ministry was never confined to the classroom; he often gave pastoral encouragement to staff members and students he met in the halls and he served as an interim pastor in 30-plus churches in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.