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Unanimous trustee vote keeps seminary in New Orleans

ATLANTA (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary trustees voted unanimously to keep the seminary in New Orleans during a Sept. 27 meeting at the seminary’s temporary administrative offices in the NOBTS North Georgia Campus.

Trustees also approved the administration’s plans to restore the main campus to normal operation by August 2006.

“I am very excited about the passionate commitment of trustees to the city of New Orleans,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “After talking through the [issue], there was absolutely no reservation, no hesitation, that New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is and always will be New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.”

The trustee board met Sept. 26-27 in a special called meeting to discuss the damage to the seminary campus and explore options for the future. From the beginning, the meeting took on a hopeful tone.

Trustees carefully weighed the question of returning to New Orleans before their vote. In the end, with awareness of the monumental task facing the seminary, the board expressed a firm commitment to return to the city.

“We are compelled to rebuild the seminary in New Orleans,” said L. Ray Moncrief, trustee chairman. “The seminary was founded there and it’s a great opportunity for this seminary to have an impact on the reconstruction of the city and for the cause of Christ.”

Moncrief said he hopes the seminary will play a prominent role in helping the people of New Orleans heal and recover from Hurricane Katrina. The seminary also will be needed, he said, to help re-launch and re-establish the many churches in the region.

Others agreed with Moncrief. They said the seminary must not abandon its original mission in New Orleans –- a mission established in 1917 by a Southern Baptist Convention vote. That mission as a “lighthouse” and a “schoolhouse” is needed more than ever in the city, trustees said.

“If Christians know anything, we ought to know how to respond in a time of crisis,” said Danny Crow, a trustee from Maryland. “I think we have got to say, ‘You don’t run out on the poor and hungry.’ You preach the Gospel to the poor and you don’t quit.”

Trustees were given detailed reports and presentations before they made their final decision. Kelley showed photographs taken shortly after city levees failed, with board members watching intently as image after image revealed damage to the homes and apartments of faculty, staff and students.

After the difficult images of floodwaters on campus, Kelley showed more hopeful photographs. The recent photographs reveal a dry campus –- completely unaffected by the city’s recent re-flooding due to Hurricane Rita. Green grass is beginning to poke through the dead grass and gray sludge left after floodwaters receded, photos showed.

Trustees then listened to a report from Mike Moskau, the seminary’s building contractor, about the feasibility of restoring the campus in New Orleans.

Moskau shared a positive assessment of the damage. The main academic buildings at the front of campus received relatively minor damage from wind and roof leaks.

By far the majority of the seminary’s damage occurred in housing units. But the news was not all bad. While 60 percent of campus housing was affected by floodwater, Moskau said mold damage has not spread to second floors. No building received structural damage from the storm or the flood.

Moskau said his work crews began repairing roof damage to Leavell Chapel the week of Sept. 12 -– the same week Kelley first toured the campus. Two weeks into the repair work, the crews have sealed over 75 percent of the roof problems on campus and Moskau expects to have all the roof damage sealed by Oct. 1.

Mold abatement experts also have been contacted to assist with the eventual sanitation of damaged campus housing units. Moskau said that before any of the new walls are installed and sealed, mold testing will be performed in each apartment and house. Records of the tests will be kept on file.

Restoring the campus will not be cheap, Moskau said. The initial estimate for restoration carries a $20 million price tag. However, insurance is expected to cover most of the cost.

In spite of the cost of recovery, trustees said the $70 million in assets the seminary currently owns in New Orleans would be hard to replace in another location. Those assets include $31 million in new construction -– buildings that are less than five years old.

Trustees discussed the risk of future hurricanes that may affect the city, acknowledging and accepting the reality of such risks. They decided that staying true to the seminary’s historic focus on ministry in the city should inform their decision more than future risks.

“We know New Orleans carries some risks, but it has never been a seminary for the faint of heart,” Kelley said after the vote. “After all, this was the first and only storm of this magnitude in the city’s 300-year existence. We are comfortable with a future in the hands of God.

“I look forward to moving into the process of restoring the campus,” he continued.

Trustees praised Kelley’s leadership during the crisis. They called special attention to his work in establishing temporary offices in Georgia and his leadership in helping provide aid to hurting seminary families. The board expressed their appreciation for Kelley’s optimism and his focus on returning to minister to the city.

“I don’t mean to patronize you, but your leadership and vision and wisdom is incredible,” said Houston Roberson, a new trustee from Roanoke, Va., attending his first board meeting. “I thank God for you.”