Rice gets back to business

Hurricane damage widespread but all buildings open

Rice News staff

After a challenging weekend, Kevin Kirby, Rice’s vice president for administration, felt confident the university had passed the test posed by Hurricane Ike, the most serious storm the campus has seen in decades.

Rice workers clear tree limbs and debris near Allen Center.

“It’s a judgment call as to what we call ‘normalcy,’ but I think we’ll be there by Monday,” he said a few days after the hurricane, looking at blue skies through the windows in his Allen Center office. Not many hours earlier, he watched as wind-driven rain seeped in around the same windows.

“We don’t have any building we can’t use, though we had damage to almost every building,” he said, noting the variety of problems yet to be dealt with. “But most of them are with windows and roofs — nothing that would keep us from operating or using the buildings.”

In particular, he said the new Rice Children’s Campus on Chaucer Drive suffered water damage that was expected to delay its opening by at least a week. It was supposed to have debuted Sept. 22. And for a few days after the storm, the Greenbriar Building, which depends on CenterPoint for power, was dark. It reopened Thursday, thanks to a new generator.

“We’re still doing an inventory on the construction sites, but our first estimate is that it was minimal damage for them,” said Kirby. “The contractors had lots of practice this summer in preparing their sites and tying things down for hurricanes, so we’ve had no reports of anything substantial.”

There was damage to the R Room at Rice Stadium, according to Athletics Director Chris Del Conte, but he said other athletic facilities came through the storm fine. “Rice Stadium has been standing since 1951, and it’s not going anywhere,” said Del Conte, who added that Autry Court, nearing the completion of its renovation, and the baseball stadium are also in good shape.

Barbara White Bryson, associate vice president for Facilities, Engineering and Planning, said the R Room will take some time to fix, as six windows facing the football stadium were blown out by Ike, and the interior sustained substantial water damage.

It was among the initial buildings to get attention from her cleanup crew. “Our first-response tasks were to maintain infrastructure, address life-safety issues, board up windows where they were broken and clean up the largest water-intrusion areas. We had water in a few basements, most seriously over at Brown College,” she said. “All those kinds of things had to be attended to right away. Happily, we kept power to most of the campus all the way through the event.”

She noted the Collaborative Research Center (CRC), still under construction across from campus at University and Main, has no power but is due to get a generator. “We experienced damage to a small area of stud work and to some duct insulation at the CRC along with a few other minor problems,” she said. “The biggest challenge to all the construction is that the labor force was significantly reduced in the week post-Ike,” said Bryson, who expected the great majority of construction workers to be back on the job in short order. The city of Houston’s focus on recovery will — understandably, she said — cause delays in the inspection and permitting process.

“If you think about the Andrews and the Katrinas of the world as being a 10 on a scale of one through 10, this was, in overall impact, probably a three for Rice,” said Bryson. “But it’s the kind of event you end up dealing with for weeks and months in our effort to get everybody back to normal operations.”


About Mike Williams

Mike Williams is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.