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TRUSTEES: New Orleans approves new housing

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees Oct. 14 approved construction of two new student apartment buildings to address urgent campus housing needs.

The unanimous vote came during the board’s fall meeting.

The $2.7 million construction initiative will result in 16 new two-bedroom student apartments — eight apartments in each building. Construction will begin in November with an anticipated completion date of June 1, 2010 – just in time for student families moving to New Orleans for the 2010-2011 academic year.

The need for more student housing is a direct result of Hurricane Katrina damage on the New Orleans campus. The seminary lost a total of 92 two-bedroom apartments when city levees failed in the wake of the 2005 storm.

During the past three years, a number of students have started each semester in temporary housing waiting for campus housing to become available. The 16 new units will ease the current strain on campus housing.

“This new housing project will allow us to have more apartments available for the men and women God is sending to our campus,” New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley said. “It’s a great day for NOBTS.

“We really do need the apartments,” Kelley continued. “God has sent us the students.”

According to Kelley, timing was an important factor in the decision to move forward with construction. With the current slowdown in construction in the New Orleans area, Kelley said, construction crews and resources are available to begin the project immediately. However, the window of opportunity could be short.

Many New Orleans-area contractors believe that skilled labor and materials will be harder to secure beginning in mid- to late 2010. Several large federally funded Katrina recovery projects are scheduled to begin next year, including a large teaching hospital. With the increased demand for services and building material, construction costs could rise by 35 to 40 percent in the next year to year and a half.

These factors, Kelley said, combined with the critical student housing needs, have increased the urgency of the project.

Construction will not add any new costs to the operating budget. The new apartments will be a joint project with Providence Housing Corporation and Providence Education Foundation.

The trustees also approved a motion concerning a proposed third, eight-apartment building. The full board authorized the trustee officers to approve the construction of a third building should the required funds become available within the next year. Kelley expects the costs for a third building to be between $800,000 and $1.4 million.

“This is an unusual step for us,” Kelley said about the contingency plan for an additional building. “I’m not expecting a check in the mail. We would have to have $800,000 in cash to think about moving into a third building. I urge you to pray for us, to pray that God will provide that additional $800,000 to $1.4 million.”

Illinois businessman Thomas Clore, though new to the NOBTS board of trustees, is not new to post-Katrina New Orleans. Clore traveled to New Orleans in the early aftermath of Katrina with an Illinois disaster relief team. Each year since 2005, Clore has led a mission team from his church to help with the rebuilding process in the New Orleans area.

During a trip to the seminary earlier in the fall, Clore was moved by the critical need for student housing. After praying about the need, Clore felt led to challenge his fellow trustees to make others aware of the need for the third building. He believes that God could use the trustees to raise the amount needed for the additional building.

Earlier in the meeting, Kelley shared positive news about the seminary’s financial situation and strong enrollment trends.

Kelley said that the “austerity” measures adopted in January 2009 made it possible for the seminary to finish the year within budget. While acknowledging that the world-wide economic crisis is not over, Kelley said seminary finances are in “really good shape.” He also said endowment investments are beginning to recover.

According to Kelley, the seminary is experiencing system-wide enrollment growth. Not only are new students coming to New Orleans Seminary, individual students are taking more academic hours per semester. The most dramatic growth, Kelley said, has come in the seminary’s online learning programs.

Kelley also announced the presidential appointment of Deok Jae Lee to the seminary faculty. Lee, who will serve as assistant professor of Christian ministry, also directs the Korean Theological Institute, a Korean language program based at the seminary’s North Georgia Hub in metro Atlanta. He is the first Korean to serve on the NOBTS faculty.

“Deok Jae Lee has a greater passion for theological education than anyone I know,” said seminary Provost Steve Lemke. “He has taught for us for several years, and has done a magnificent job in building up our Korean program in Atlanta. With faculty status, he can become a more integral part of the institution.”

Joe Sheerer was also appointed as a ministry-based faculty member. Sherrer, associate pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, is the former chairman of the Christian education division and director of the doctor of educational ministry program at New Orleans Seminary. He was a fulltime faculty member at the seminary from 2000 to 2009.

At the close of the meeting, seven new trustees showed their affirmation of the seminary’s two statements of faith — the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and the Articles of Religious Belief. The Articles of Religious Belief were written by the first New Orleans faculty in 1918, before the Southern Baptist Convention approved the original Baptist Faith and Message in 1925.

In other action, the trustees approved a new graduate certificate in church-community ministries and five new church leadership certificate training locations in Florida.
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.