(August 16, 2013) Nearly eight years to the day it closed because of Hurricane Rita, Burton Residence Hall has reopened on the McNeese State University campus.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held today (Friday) to open the doors of the new $7.2 million Burton Residence Hall to students, parents, faculty and staff, and the community. Students will be moving into their suites Aug. 22 and classes begin Aug. 26 on the McNeese campus.
Guided tours led by student community assistants showed off the new three-story residence hall and its new furnishings.
"This is an exciting time at McNeese," said Dr. Toby Osburn, associate vice president for university services at McNeese. "It has been over 10 years since the university opened a new residence hall. We've listened to our students and learned a lot about what they like and we think Burton Hall delivers."
According to Osburn, Burton revolves around a high-achieving academic community of emerging student scholars and leaders. "We are creating a true living-learning community in this residence hall. Burton is for students who have demonstrated academic excellence. It will be a diverse community and we will have students from a cross section of majors and extracurricular interests, including the Honors College."
"Students with common interests and talents will have the ability to interact on a daily basis and research shows that this leads to greater academic success," said McNeese President Philip Williams.
Dr. Scott Goins, honors college director and head of the department of English and Languages at McNeese, said, "McNeese needed this. The focus of this project from the beginning has been on academics."
He offered the example of Aristotle who espoused the theory that "when good people are with each other they inspire goodness in each other."
Goins said the Honors College was created nearly 12 years ago as an initiative to attract academically talented students to McNeese. It accepts only 25 students each year from hundreds of applicants.
Burton Hall is a 60,000 square-foot facility with 150 beds. The facility offers a new, modern approach to on-campus living featuring private bedrooms, in-suite restrooms and casual living areas shared among a small number of suitemates.
The building offers high speed Internet and cable television connection in each bedroom and wireless access points throughout the building that support the use of personal electronic devices.
State-of-the-art Live-view and recordable video security cameras, in-room and in-suite personal security and alarm systems and access control features requiring credentials issued only to residents and other authorized personnel are the kinds of features and services that today's college students and their families seek, added Osburn.
Burton also offers a central lobby and casual gathering spaces that foster social interaction and a sense of identity and community as well as multiple study rooms for both individuals and small groups. The facility also has a well-equipped multipurpose classroom - where Honors College seminars and other university courses, workshops and related student activities will be offered.
The original facility - designated a women's residence hall - was constructed in 1970 at a cost of $2.2 million and was designed to house 550 students. Named for Alice Evelyn Smith Burton, mother of Southwest Louisiana entrepreneur and McNeese benefactor William T. Burton, the 98,000 square-foot, five-story building was a significant architectural anchor for the southwest corner of the campus.
"My great grandfather would be very honored to know that Burton Hall, originally named for his mother, Alice, continues to exist and thrive. He recognized that the university was key to the growth and future of Southwest Louisiana and he would be proud to see how far it has come over the years," Jack Lawton Jr. said.
The 35-year-old structure sustained significant wind-driven rain and roof damage during Hurricane Rita in September of 2005 and never reopened. Discussions with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Louisiana Office of Facility, Planning and Control about how to repair and restore Burton Hall continued until 2008.
The final decision was that it would not be cost-effective to repair the building and plans were made to utilize a $7.2 million combination of disaster recovery and insurance funds to demolish the damaged building and reconstruct on the same site. The demolition took place in the summer of 2012 and construction of Burton took a little more than a year to complete.
Williams and several speakers noted the significance of McNeese President Emeritus Dr. Robert Hebert's leadership in reopening and restoring the McNeese campus following Hurricane Rita. "Not reopening is not an option," Richard Rhoden, director of facilities and plant operations at McNeese, said Hebert told the small group of administrators and staff who were working to assess damage and restore operations immediately after Rita struck.