UNCW: Buildings must be braced for future hurricanes

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Campus clean-up nears $140 million after Hurricane Florence

WILMINGTON — As rebuilding continues at the University of North Carolina Wilmington after Hurricane Florence, campus leaders are trying to take future storms into account.

Chancellor Jose Sartarelli gave an update on recovery efforts at Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting. A preliminary cost estimate came to $139.6 million campus-wide, with $59.1 million of that coming from the storm’s damage to science building Dobo Hall alone.

Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Miles Lackey said most campus buildings constructed before 2005, including 1992-designed Dobo, had roof shingles rated for winds up 90 mph. Florence’s highest recorded gust in the area was 105 mph.

“We also have updated codes now that we will need to comply with,” Lackey said. “You’re basically taking that building apart and you’re going to have put it back together again.”

Beyond higher-rated shingles and stronger roofs, Sartarelli said UNCW needs to look at ways to better spread out its classroom resources.

When the roof at Dobo failed and water came pouring in, it decimated the university’s science center. The building holds 16 instructional labs and 31 research labs, Lackey said. This semester, it held 9,000 student enrollments’ worth of classes, mainly in biology and chemistry.

“We opted to put all of our science efforts in one building — there probably was a good reason for it with past boards of trustees,” Sartarelli said. “But if you get hit real hard and you lose it, it’s a bad problem. I would like to have a system of labs (across campus).”

Today, several science classes have relocated to MARBIONC, a research space housed at the university on Masonboro Sound. But Lackey said labs at that building are designed for research purposes, not instructional. And while Veterans Hall, currently under construction, will add six labs to campus, they won’t open until 2020 or 2021.

Finding funding

One bright spot for campus is that leaders have identified funding sources for most of the necessary repairs.

There are three channels for campus to get recovery money: the state’s Department of Insurance, FEMA, and the N.C. General Assembly. Of the needed $140 million, Sartarelli estimated $90 million to $100 million will come from insurance and FEMA. State legislators have already allotted $30 million for the three UNC-system campuses hit by the storm, and Sartarelli said he predicts the Board of Governors will direct $22 million to $27 million of that to UNCW.

That leaves between $13 million and $28 million the university will have to ask legislators for when they return for a short session in November.

That could mean updating or adding to the university’s capital priorities, which even before the storm included a $45 million overhaul of Dobo. Campus leaders also have long-term plans to add more dorms to campus, now an even more pressing priority after Hurricane Florence severely damaged University Apartments, taking 400 student beds out of circulation.

“This is why I think every effort should be made to prepare ourselves for the future,” Sartarelli said. “There will be others, and there may be others tougher.”

Reporter Cammie Bellamy can be reached at Cammie.Bellamy@StarNewsOnline.com.