Preparing for legal battle

Photo mosaics cover the fences that block access to the Brown Administrative Complex, but these pictures cannot mask the fact that the building sits dormant — the victim of Hurricane Ike which struck Sept. 25, 2008.

During the storm, the complex sustained damage to two segments of the roof as well as heavy water damage to the M.D. Anderson Student Center and the TV studio. The damage led to mold growth and declining air quality, forcing the administration to vacate the campus’ original building.

The University is currently involved in a lawsuit with ACE American Insurance Company and York Claims Service, Inc., in an attempt to recover damages to the Brown Administrative Complex.

The lawsuit stems from a disagreement between the University and ACE American over engineering reports commissioned by the University and the insurance company to determine damages. The conflicting reports showed discrepancies, including the insurance company’s report which excluded items needed to bring the building up to code.

President Robert B. Sloan Jr. said the University’s estimate to repair the building is in excess of $21 million, and that figure does not include expenses incurred as a result of the interruption of business due to the closing of the building.

“It has hurt our public image,” Sloan said. “Not having the use of the building has hurt our ability to recruit students, our curb appeal, our students’ University experience and our ability to retain students.”

Sloan added that he’s sorry the University had to take the insurance company to court.

“They drug their feet,” Sloan said. “They weren’t very responsive. They obviously have not paid us what they owe us under our coverage. I don’t think the insurance company has acted in good faith.”

A court date has been set for early 2011.

The deposition phase of the case has begun, and Sloan said he thinks the University’s case is very strong and very simple.

“We bought insurance, and the building is in need of extensive repair and code upgrades,” Sloan said. “The insurance company needs to live up to its obligations.”

Sloan, who expects a settlement with the insurance company, said the University plans to repair the building.

He said that process would take at least a year.

The loss of the building has forced the administration to move faculty offices, classrooms and administrative offices to other buildings across campus. The decentralization of administrative offices has been challenging, but administrators agreed the greatest loss was the M.D. Anderson Student Center.

The once-popular student center housed the University Bookstore, a coffee stand that served Starbucks products and The Pawz, which offered snacks and meals. The student center also housed a music hall.

Senior Griffin Covington said he enjoyed the central location and sense of community the student center provided.

“You would walk in and see someone you knew or would meet new people,” said Covington, who also preferred the food options at the student center because of the wider variety.

The large atrium at the center of the rectangular building provided indoor and outdoor seating for students, faculty and staff.

The atrium featured a fountain, gazebo and palm trees, which formed a convenient campus oasis which served as a social center.

It was, in the description of Sandy Mooney, vice president of financial operations, the hub of activity before the hurricane.

Dr. Paul Bonicelli, provost, said the loss of the student center has hurt residential students’ ability to meet with commuter students and has curtailed student interaction with faculty. 

“Students can’t easily mingle in this environment in large enough groups that they can make new friendships and keep up with old friendships and have the discussions you want to have about light things and heavy things, class stuff, non-class stuff,” Bonicelli said.

Covington said he has seen improvement in the situation and thinks the Husky Express, located in the Hinton Center, is becoming an area popular among students, faculty and staff.

In addition to the loss of the student center, the loss of office space led to more than 20 percent of faculty and staff being relocated this summer after the initial scramble to relocate offices immediately after Ike.

Despite the formidable effort this summer, the issue of office space remains acute.

“It’s been a challenge to make space and have enough space for all the different functions we have going on,” Mooney said.

While the University awaits a legal decision on the Brown Administrative Complex, efforts have been made to improve the aesthetics of the fenced-off structure.

In addition to the mosaics comprised of photos from University events, the area between the Brown Complex and Atwood I has been remodeled as a small park area with four benches.

Sloan said the University is trying to convey the message that it refuses to accept that there is an unusable building in the middle of campus.

“The idea is that we’re making progress,” Sloan said. “We don’t want it to be an eyesore.”