On Jan. 14, Lone Star College (LSC)-Kingwood had lots of happy students as five buildings damaged during Hurricane Harvey reopened just in time for the start of the spring 2019 semester.

Of nine total buildings on campus, six were damaged in the hurricane, but the administration moved quickly to make adjustments to ensure their students continued classes with minimal interruption.

As soon as it was possible, building remediation began to assess and repair the damage, with construction crews working for nearly one-and-a-half years to restore the campus. Some classes have been held on the campus as restorations took place, and 10 portable buildings were brought in to temporarily house students. When possible, certain classes were shifted to online instruction, and the school opened nearby buildings to accommodate students. Some groups, such as the 250 nursing students, were moved to the Red Oak facility on FM 1960.

"Here at the Kingwood campus, we have the largest nursing program in the LSC system, so we also shifted the program to an evening program to better accommodate everyone," said Bill Van Rysdam, an administrator at The Woodlands campus who has helped in Kingwood since the flood.

There was definitely some fun along the way in the restoration. Each academic team was able to choose their own color theme for their remodeled building. Amazingly, no team chose the same color. Some teams chose very serene colors to make their building a place of academic refuge, while others chose a red, white and blue theme to show their patriotism.

The campus first opened in 1984 and the original four buildings had remained largely unrenovated. Harvey changed all that. During the reconstruction process, LSC-Kingwood made changes that will help to better serve the needs of students and employees well into the future. Campus classrooms are now equipped with the latest computer and audio-visual technology. Some practical changes, such as moving the college’s main computer server off the ground floor, were also done.

"The servers are safe now," Dr. Katherine Persson, president of LSC-Kingwood said. The college also implemented other flood prevention improvements, such as moving important communications equipment to buildings that did not flood and raising structures to higher ground.

Some spaces were underutilized, such as the racquetball court, which has been removed and replaced with 20 treadmills and ellipticals. The old dance room is now the cardio exercise room, and Persson made sure to add student lounges in buildings that did not previously have them.

Diana Sorensen has been at LSC since 1996 and works in the Creative Services Department. She is a photographer for the college and was on hand Dec. 17 to take photographs as Persson led the press and several invited students on a campus tour. Sorensen made the fateful decision to bring her expensive camera home the day before Harvey hit, so her most prized piece of work equipment was safe and sound. During the tour, Sorensen showed great delight as she saw her remodeled building and office for the first time.

The students were also excited, barely able to contain their glee at all the renovations and commenting to each other with "amazing" and "oh, wow"s throughout the entire tour. Psychology major Tessa Travitz attended LSC-Kingwood for only one semester before the flood. Since then, she has been taking classes at the Atascocita campus and online. She and two other students who belong to the college's Student Government Association were invited to attend the sneak peak. Travitz commented on the new audio-visual technology and how helpful it would be for students' communications classes. "I’m very excited about having the whole Kingwood campus open again," Travitz said.

Ricky Nguyen began his freshman year in the fall of 2018, so he did not even attend classes prior to Harvey. He has been taking history, math and criminal justice on campus since the storm. Nguyen was "very excited and happy to be invited today to see the whole process. It's pretty cool to be able to see the areas of campus that we haven't been able to get to for a while."

Nicolas Oviedo is an international student from Colombia, and with comments like "I love that" and "look at that," was clearly thrilled to see the changes in every single building. In particular, all three students were thrilled to walk into the LSC flag room to see the flag holders still in place. The college room contains a flag representing the country of every international student the college has educated since 1984. Oviedo said that he cannot wait to see the Colombian flag flying high again. All three students were very excited about the new fitness center changes on campus, and are happy that they will no longer have to pay gym fees elsewhere.

The library building suffered extensive damage and is still undergoing renovation, but is expected to open in March. The space will be fully modernized with state-of-the-art equipment and technology for use by students, employees and the community. "Given that modern libraries require a lot more technology than when ours opened in 1984, we took our time in redesigning this area to meet current and future needs and to be very flexible," Persson said.

All total, Harvey did $60 million in damage to the campus, and Persson and her team remain not only undeterred, but stronger for the experience. Persson said the goal from the very beginning was to restore the campus, and expressed sincere gratitude to her team for not letting the storm shake their determination to get students educated. Her biggest lesson? "I’ve always been pretty flexible, but a catastrophe of this magnitude taught me humility and gratitude. I absolutely could not have done this without the team I have. They are amazing," Persson said.

Persson said that the most extensive change was the wiring and networking that will serve their needs for years and that will allow classrooms to be used as flexible spaces.

Lone Star College offers high-quality, low-cost academic transfer and career training education to 99,000 students each semester, and when students returned to campus on Jan. 14, they were returning to a vastly improved campus. LSC will even offer late-session registration for classes that will begin in February to give some students a bit more time to make the transition.

While there are things still remaining to be done, the campus was ready to open.

"It is like moving into a new house," Persson said. "We still have things to do, but we can definitely move in. It’s exciting, and it has been a long time coming, but we’ll get all these other things done and have our grand opening Feb. 15."

Jacqueline Havelka
Author: Jacqueline HavelkaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I am a rocket scientist turned writer. I worked at Lockheed Martin-Johnson Space Center for many years managing experiments on the Space Station and Shuttle, and I now own my own firm, Inform Scientific, specializing in technical and medical writing and research program management. I am a contributing correspondent to The Tribune, a Kingwood resident for 12 years, and proud mom to two Aggie sons.