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When Joe May became president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) in early 2007, one of his first orders of business was to visit the Hurricane Katrina-ravaged campuses of Delgado Community College (DCC) and Nunez Community College (NCC).
“Those first visits were ones of absolute frustration,” May recalls. “I looked at the facilities that had been damaged and what steps had been taken to change things, and the more I knew the more my frustration grew.”
Today, more than two and a half years after his initial inspections, most of the same decimated structures remain, and May says he is, if anything, even more frustrated. But the former system president of the Colorado Community College System says he has also learned a valuable lesson from the long delay in clearing out the two campuses.
“From what I know, the thinking immediately after Katrina was one of assuming that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), was going to come in and fairly quickly take care of things,” he says.
That thinking was, to a large degree, a hope born of necessity. Because of the high floodwaters, it was difficult for DCC and NCC officials to make immediate inspections and compile records of the damage themselves.
But there was also an expectation, say Louisiana community college leaders, that based on its performance in past disasters, FEMA would step in quickly and resolve matters.
“Now we realize that if we are ever in a situation like this again, the best thing is to get in there as soon as possible and do our own assessments, begin working immediately to get bids and get things done,” May says.
A more immediate response would also prove beneficial to FEMA because it would begin the vital documentation process that the agency needs to make decisions, May says.
While May remains frustrated over FEMA’s delay in finally determining what to do about the storm-damaged buildings at DCC and NCC, he doesn’t personalize it.
“The FEMA folks who I have met with and talked to and know are working hard. They want the same things that we want, and many of them are pretty frustrated by their own bureaucracy and rules,” he says.
He notes that FEMA has supported the two colleges in other ways. The agency, for example, has so far given DCC and NCC more than $58 million total in obligated funds for recovery efforts.
Currently confronting a $15.6-million cutback in state funding, LCTCS is hardly in a position to walk away from continued negotiations with FEMA.
“We estimated that it would take about $23 million just to rebuild the campus of Delgado, and we don’t have that kind of money,” May says.
Instead, May says he wants to focus on the possible.
“When I came here in 2007, I did not think that we would still be having a discussion about facilities today,” he says. “But when I look at the great progress that both of these colleges have made since Katrina, I feel optimistic and realize that we have to continue moving forward.”
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