Construction is set to begin this fall on a $20 million Coastal Center at Nicholls State University that will serve as a hub for research on Louisiana’s eroding wetlands and how to preserve and restore them.
It’s part of a broader plan to put the Thibodaux university at the center of research and job training for Louisiana’s ongoing efforts to protect coastal communities from an encroaching Gulf of Mexico.
“We recognized we were perfectly prepared to be a leader in coastal innovation,” said Gary LaFleur, an associate professor of biology and director of Nicholls’ Center for Bayou Studies.
So far, the state has set aside $15 million for the building’s construction. Nicholls plans to raise another $5 million for educational exhibits.
The building will allow scientists, students and others to collaborate on research and projects, with a primary focus on the Atchafalaya River and the Terrebonne Basin. The state coastal agency, the Baton Rouge-based Water Institute of the Gulf and Nicholls’ biological sciences and geomatics departments are among those already committed to the work.
Louisiana loses the equivalent of a football field of coastal islands and wetlands every 100 minutes, with more than 1,800 square miles turned to open water in the past 90 years, officials said.
“We have to focus on long-term progress and long-term conservation of what we already have, and there might be a little sacrifice,” said John Doucet, dean of sciences and technology and Nicholls director of coastal initiatives.
The state’s 50-year, $50 billion coastal master plan acknowledges that not every part of the coast can be saved or reclaimed and that some residents may have to elevate homes or move to higher ground.
Doucet is in charge of developing exhibits that will occupy about 5,000 square feet of the new building. It will be built at Acadia and Ordoyne drives, across from Calecas Hall, close to the biology and science buildings.
The exhibits will highlight the threat coastal erosion and hurricanes pose to communities, fisheries and the economy. And they will showcase work underway by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and others to address the problems.
The center will help help train people for the thousands of jobs studies show it will take to save the coast, which Doucet said makes it a good investment for the state and students.
“It’s going to be an important experience for current students, and we anticipate that more students will enroll at the university just because they are interested in that kind of work,” Doucet said.
Students involved in other areas of study, such as language, the cooking school, agriculture, biology and mass communication, will also use the center’s resources and collaborate on research.
“This can be place where there is a lot of student activity and faculty activity,” LaFleur said. “Students coming in and out with boats, with muddy boots, buckets of plants and crabs, where there’s a tangible representation of students and faculty contributing to the understanding of the coastal processes.”