John W. Barnett, Chaney, John A.
ALEXANDRIA – Officials joined in a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday (Aug. 15) for the Louisiana Emergency Shelter to be constructed at the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research Station here.
Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco joined LSU System President William Jenkins, LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson, LSU-Alexandria Chancellor Robert Cavanaugh and others to break ground for the new facility.
Located just south of the LSU-Alexandria campus, the $26 million climate-controlled shelter is being built to provide a place for citizens seeking refuge during emergencies such as hurricanes and other disasters. The 230,000-square-foot facility is designed to accommodate citizens with special needs and could provide shelter for up to 3,500 people.
"This state-run shelter is the first of its kind in Louisiana and will help to assure our citizens have a safe haven – no matter where they live or what the emergency may be," Blanco said. "It will also generate an economic impact for the area when not in use as a shelter.
"Central Louisiana has long served as a generous host to our coastal residents during hurricanes, and we thank you for your commitment in times of need," the governor said. "As the state continues solidifying our resources for emergencies, I urge all citizens to be personally prepared as we head into the most active time of our hurricane season."
With two storms being watched this week, officials said the facility is an example of how Louisiana is making great strides in preparing for future events.
"This shelter is another example of Louisiana’s recovery from two devastating hurricanes," Jenkins said. "It’s a statement we as a state will do everything we can do to make sure we’re prepared for the next big storm."
When completed, the facility will be managed by the LSU AgCenter, except during an emergency when the Louisiana Department of Social Services will take control. It is being constructed adjacent to the new 60,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Dean Lee Research-Extension Livestock Facility, and the two facilities will be joined by a covered walkway.
"It is a privilege to have the shelter located at the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research Station," Richardson said. "With the connecting livestock barn next door, it will enhance our ability to better serve the educational and economic needs of the agricultural community and others."
In addition, with the LSU-Alexandria campus now offering four-year degree programs and housing on campus, the emergency shelter also offers benefits to students and citizens of the area.
"I am excited about the shelter being built adjacent to the campus," Cavanaugh said. "The shelter will provide a place for graduation, conferences and conventions."
Ann Williamson, secretary of the Department of Social Services, said Louisiana currently has a variety of other shared facilities that are designated as shelters across the state. Of those 19 shelters, some are equipped to handle people with special medical needs.
"With better cooperation and planning, we are poised to help the citizens find shelter in this state both safely and responsibly when moving out of harms way," Williamson said.
Jeff Smith, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, said with the possibility of a storm reaching the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend, there are "meals ready to eat" and water stored throughout the state. In addition, 1,000 buses are ready to move people out of harm’s way and to help those citizens that cannot help themselves, if such assistance is needed.
As for the location of the shelter under construction, the LSU AgCenter and LSU-Alexandria campus are among 11 institutions of the Louisiana State University System.
The LSU AgCenter, headquartered in Baton Rouge, provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. It plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life through its 4-H youth, family and community programs.
The emergency center south of Alexandria is being constructed by Ratcliff Construction Co. of Alexandria and should be completed by late summer of 2008.
For more information on the center or the livestock facilities, contact the LSU AgCenter’s Dean Lee Research-Extension Center at (318) 473-6520 or visit the Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com.