Torrential rain moved the “Rising in Triumph: Farewell FEMA Trailers” ceremony indoors Monday morning, but the sun came out just in time for Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) to celebrate as the last Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer rolled off the campus.
SUNO Chancellor Victor Ukpolo led students, faculty, staff, administrators and guests in a second line as the Young Prospect Brass Band played Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Forty-five balloons, each representing one of the FEMA trailers, also were released to commemorate the end of the seven-year trailer era and mark the beginning of a bigger and stronger SUNO.
SUNO’s recovery “is the definition of going through challenges and coming out smelling like roses,” Chancellor Ukpolo said. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are excited about it.”
During the ceremony, Chancellor Ukpolo described the University’s journey since Hurricane Katrina devastated the campus in August 2005. He also thanked the local, state and federal officials who helped along the way.
Several officials also reflected on SUNO’s journey: New Orleans City Councilman Jared Brossett, District C; Steve Losavio, assistant director of the state Facility Planning & Control office; Mark Riley, deputy director for Disaster Recovery, Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness; and SUNO Alumnus Eddie Williams, branch chief, FEMA’s Louisiana Recovery Office of Public Assistance Infrastructure.
The journey to recovery started with the Marriott Hotel providing 400 rooms to house SUNO employees who returned to reopen the campus. Next, the University operated out of the uptown Sophie B. Wright Middle School building.
In February 2006, SUNO dedicated the 45 FEMA trailers located on what is now known as the University’s Lake Campus. The trailers housed all the colleges, departments, classrooms and auxiliary offices. Over the years, as refurbished buildings reopened and new buildings were brought online, students, faculty, staff and administrators began to move into the permanent structures. The trailers began to be decommissioned in December 2013 with the opening of the Lake Campus Multipurpose Complex.
In addition to the removal of the FEMA trailers, SUNO will have more to celebrate in coming months. Renovations of the Emmett Bashful Administration Building, the Library and the University Center are expected to be complete in August. Four new buildings are currently in the design phase: the Millie Charles School of Social Work, the College of Education, Natural Sciences, and Arts & Social Sciences. These buildings are expected to be complete in two to three years.