“We like to say that a lot of universities were named after saints, but this is the only one founded by a saint,” says Marion Bracy, director of facilities planning and management at Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans. In 1915, Saint Katharine Drexel and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament founded a Catholic high school, which later evolved into Xavier University of Louisiana.
To address a continuing need for greater educational opportunities for African Americans, this co-educational secondary school was expanded into a teaching college in 1917. By 1925, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was added and Xavier University of Louisiana was born. As the university grew, the committed philanthropist Saint Katharine Drexel purchased additional land in 1929, which allowed the school to flourish and add to New Orleans’ rich history.
Currently serving 4,000 students, the university is in a state of constant growth. Two years ago, the school modernized a warehouse into apartment-style suites for a new residence hall. New laboratories and a new library support the school’s research capacity, while an addition to Xavier’s Science Complex has doubled the facility’s size.
The latest addition, the University Center, provides vital space for a dining hall, meeting rooms, a bookstore, post office, and student services. Currently, a new residence hall is under construction.
To enhance teaching and to improve interaction with its community, Xavier University is developing an Art Village facility. A religious center is also slated for construction. The facilities planning and management department covers the entire campus and satellite facilities, maintains mechanical systems, and participates in all modernization and new construction projects.
Located in the area known as the Triangle – a wedge of land bordered by Carrolton, Washington, and Route I-10 – the main campus is composed of approximately 40 buildings. Bracy oversees a staff of 60, and works with outsourcing firms. Budget is always an issue. “The problem is that people do not give funding for deferred maintenance,” explains Bracy. “People want to see their name on a new building, but it is hard to get funding to repair an air-conditioning unit.”
The thriving campus has necessitated the need for the facilities management department to streamline its processes. “We want to be more consistent throughout the campus whether it is carpet, lighting, or paint,” says Bracy. The school officials have a strong interest in forming product standards. The team is also establishing a preferred vendors list.
Choosing the right interior products is always a challenge on college campuses. “Furniture is a big issue in a university; the style of furniture is a status symbol,” says Bracy. In addition to aesthetics, Bracy is interested in energy-efficient products and ergonomics. To be more cost-effective, the university wants to do more bulk purchasing and stockpiling of items.
During weekly staff meetings, the facilities team discusses building issues, from utilities to liability, to getting furniture delivered on time. Adds Bracy, “My issues change daily.” Although the concerns of Xavier University are unique when compared to larger universities, such as Louisiana State University, Bracy brainstorms with other college facilities managers to solve common problems. Along with meetings, Bracy frequently reviews an APPA (The Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers) e-mail listserv for facilities managers covering facilities challenges and their solutions.
With a history deeply rooted in social justice and faith, this small liberal arts college is driven to continue its educational legacy. Since 1986, the total undergraduate enrollment has doubled. In recent years, the university has seen a growing influx of out-of-state students. To serve the university’s ever-growing needs, Bracy has to be a student himself, always open to learning, listening, and striving.
Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.