LSU exceeds $50 million engineering complex goal

LSU has exceeded its goal of raising $50 million in private donations needed to renovate Patrick F. Taylor Hall. The plan is to turn it into a high-tech engineering complex that can compete with any other engineering school in the country.

Monday’s announcement from Gov. Bobby Jindal means LSU has held up its end in the $100 million public-private partnership first announced in October 2012. The partnership calls for the state to match every dollar LSU raises as part of the Breaking New Ground campaign.

LSU has, so far, raised $52.5 million, eclipsing the original goal, and doing it three months ahead of schedule, Jindal said.

“This investment will help us continue to move our economy forward,” the governor said, adding the state is anticipating an industrial boom over the next several years and will need engineers and computer scientists to fill an expected increase in demand.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission estimates Louisiana will need to increase the number of engineers and construction management graduates by 30 percent over the next several years.

Analysts say Louisiana can expect to see roughly $60 billion worth of new plant construction and plant expansions over the next several years, mostly driven by the low price of natural gas.

One of the “biggest challenges is having enough skilled workers” to meet demands, Jindal said. “It’s a good problem to have.”

A newly renovated engineering school should help LSU keep up in the higher education “arms race” in which schools are constantly trying to build new facilities or upgrade existing ones as a means to attract high-caliber students.

Richard Koubek, dean of LSU’s College of Engineering, said the school graduates about 650 students per year, putting it in the top 10 percent nationwide.

With the fall 2014 incoming enrollment up 37 percent on top of the 55 percent increase in 2013, Koubek predicts the engineering school could graduate as many as 1,150 students in five years.

It is the fifth fastest-growing engineering school in the country out of 360 similar programs.

A renovation and expansion is supposed to be a big part of continuing that momentum.

The goal is to breathe some new life into the 37-year-old building, with new laboratories for teaching and research, expanded areas for student services, an academic support center, several new studying spaces for students and a planned new annex dedicated to chemical engineering.

The project is expected to break ground this fall and be finished by 2017.

When it’s done, the renovated facility should be more than double its size, expanding from roughly 168,000 square feet to about 350,000 square feet.

The fundraising campaign started off with a $15 million donation from Phyllis Taylor, chairwoman of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which supports issues ranging from educational projects to military and law enforcement causes throughout the state.

Nearly two dozen large donations followed, with 20 of those gifts totaling $1 million or more.

Taylor, who co-chaired the fundraising effort, said more than 450 individual and corporate donors contributed to the campaign.

“We look forward to the day when we have enough room for all of the students who want to come here,” Taylor said.

LSU President F. King Alexander said the goal of raising $50 million in private dollars seemed implausible when he first arrived in Baton Rouge about eight months ago.

“The reason why private schools won’t touch engineering is because it’s so expensive,” he said.

Alexander said he believes the state’s commitment to matching the private donations ultimately made the campaign a successful one. He said it was the selling point that fundraisers could use to convince a number of alumni and out-of-state donors to open their wallets.

“You just can’t find dollar-for-dollar matches out there,” Alexander said. “You just can’t.”