Highway construction, new buildings create ‘front door’ to Lamar

Highway construction, new buildings create ‘front door’ to Lamar

The Wayne A. Reaud Building is no doubt the centerpiece of what will be the new front door to Lamar University. However, there are several other pieces to this puzzle that will present an inviting and attractive gateway to students, faculty and other visitors to the campus.

An important aspect of this new gateway is the reversal of entrance and exit ramps along US 69 between Highland Avenue and Spur 380. Construction will begin early in 2017 and take approximately one year to complete, according to Sarah Dupre, public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation.

The Texas Transportation Commission awarded more than $7.25 million to APAC-TEXAS Inc. to complete the project, which will not only allow easier access to that side of campus, but also address safety concerns, congestion and help open the area for more economic development, said Dupre. Because the project has only recently been awarded, she said the timeline is currently unknown, but once complete, the new ramps will have several benefits for those traveling to and from the campus, as well as for businesses looking to capitalize on the potential customers.

“If a business wanted to open up right there, they would have more traffic because people would be getting off earlier,” she said. “It will also help with the traffic flow. If students are coming from Mid-County (traveling north on US 69), instead of getting off at MLK, where you also have people going to plants and things like that, they can take the next exit right past MLK and go into Lamar that way.”

And bringing new businesses to areas surrounding the campus is something that has been a top priority for Lamar for quite some time.

Specifically, there are three parcels for which Lamar is seeking developers — one south of Virgina Avenue along the MLK feeder road, one currently being used as a parking lot at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Rolfe Christopher Drive, and a fenced in property north of the Montagne Center. There are several other smaller parcels that the university now owns, as well, including property on Vermont Street.

“There’s a great opportunity for retail on that end of campus,” said Lamar University president Ken Evans.

Also key in this new south entrance is the Center for Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship (CICE), which is expected to open at the beginning of 2017.

The university broke ground on the 21,000-square-foot innovation center in September with Long Architects Inc. of Beaumont designing the building and construction funded by a Community Development Block Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Texas General Land Office.

“The building has plans for numerous offices, conference rooms to encourage interaction, wet and dry labs, training centers, an event center, a student Idea Center (‘Hatchery’), a computer simulation and training center, and offices for the Small Business Development Center all under one roof,” said CICE Director Paul Latiolais. “The offices, labs, conference rooms, and student areas will support startups, the Soft Landing program (facilitate out-of-region companies evaluating the region), university/industry interaction, faculty, student interns, and the development of innovation clusters. The interactive learning areas will support student learning, class structure, workforce training, and professional development.”

The center will act as a conduit for industry and university interaction, including projects, on-going research, student experiential learning, special events and training and will promote a strong emphasis on student development and training to prepare graduates for rewarding careers by familiarizing them with entrepreneurial real-world projects. New businesses supported by the center are technology-focused, providing products and services for existing and future industry.

“The objective is to strengthen our economy by encouraging out-of-region companies or subsidiaries to co-locate here and to coach innovation-based startups from product idea to market,” Latiolais said. “The CICE building also provides interactive learning opportunities for students and new environments for faculty.”

The Honors College, housed in the Wayne A. Reaud Building, will work in synergy with the CICE, Latiolais said.

“We expect to recruit some of the top students to engage in idea creation and ultimately product development. In today’s university environment, the best students are looking for added dimension beyond the classroom, and they demand real-world experiences to enhance their educational objectives. Students will be delighted with the CICE offerings as a complement to the Reaud Honors College,” he said.

“We integrate academic excellence, community involvement and civic leadership,” added Dean of the Lamar University Honors College Kevin Dodson. Dodson said the honors college currently has more than 350 students enrolled in the program. “We’ve got the academic coursework side covered. We’ve got a residential wing in the dorm, so we’ve got the residential side covered. We’ve got the honors student association that covers the social and programming side that includes a peer mentoring group, so that when a student comes in, they are immediately connected to a peer honors student that shows them the ropes of the college and the university and gets them integrated socially into the campus. This is high-impact educational practice.”

The Reaud administration building also houses information technology functions.

Priscilla Parsons, vice president of Information Technology and CIO at Lamar University, said for Lamar’s IT department, the move to the Wayne A. Reaud Building not only came with new offices for her staff but also a much needed upgrade to the school’s server system.

“For IT, the move to this building is multi-faceted,” she said. “First, it offers the space for our staff where we are able to bring together things that were previously located in different buildings on campus. … The new data center is going to have not only our enterprise system such as payroll, HR, student registration … it’s also going to allow us to advance our digital learning and that will benefit the students as well as enhance our research infrastructure.”

The IT department currently runs about 150 systems out of the data center. There is also a disaster recovery data center at Texas State University in San Marcos, Parsons said.

Lamar University is also expected to break ground on a new 80,000-square-foot science and technology center in spring 2017 that will greatly enhance the university’s instruction and research capabilities, Evans added. The $60 million major construction project will be funded through state-issued tuition revenue bonds. After construction, the existing Hayes Biology Building will undergo renovation and be repurposed, he said.

These new buildings will present both commercial and residential development opportunities for businesses, said Evans.

“Obviously, there is going to be faculty and staff associated with that and in turn they are going to need retail services. They are going to need food, retailing, coffee services and all the other sundries,” Evans said, adding that the increase of the in-residence population will also present opportunities for businesses to construct new apartments or condominiums around the campus.

Currently, food distribution is primarily in the Setzer Student Center, Evans said, adding that Starbucks is planning to open a coffee shop in the Mary and John Gray Library in the near future.

The Setzer Student Center will be completely gutted and remodeled in a $30 million project, which began in November.

“There is a 16-18-month projected time frame on that (remodel),” he said.

Evans said he believes the upgrade of facilities will dramatically enhance how prospective students view the campus and increase enrollment numbers.

“We’re seeing dramatic increases in our projections for enrollment,” he said, pointing out that the in-residence population is growing rapidly, as well. “We believe we will continue to see that increase in the foreseeable future. Our online business is growing quite substantially, as well, so a target somewhere in the vicinity of 20,000 students in the next six to seven years … is not out of the question.”