Bequest to help renovate building, upgrade equipment

April 9, 2001

Arthur Nead

Dramatic changes are in the cards for the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The department recently announced it is the recipient of a $4.4 million bequest from the estate of Catherine G. Spaar of San Antonio, who died in November. Her late husband, William H. Spaar, was a 1922 graduate of Tulane's engineering school.

The resolution establishing the Spaar memorial fund is specific in its description of how the money is to be used, according to Nicholas Altiero, dean of the engineering school.

"The resolution says that all the funding will go into an endowment, which should have a pay-out of approximately $250,000 per year," says Altiero. "Eighty percent of that must go toward graduate student scholarships."

This means that approximately $200,000 of the endowment's annual income is earmarked for support of graduate students in the department.

"The other 20 percent is for infrastructure needs: laboratories and maintenance of facilities in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering," says Altiero.

John Niklaus, interim chair of the department, estimates the funding should boost the number of graduate students in the department from 15 to more than 20. "It will be very helpful to our faculty to have graduate student support enabling them to increase their research efforts," says Niklaus.

The department concentrates on engineering research in several areas, including structures, environment, water quality modeling and pollution control. According to Niklaus, the department is currently engaged in recruiting a new chair and two faculty positions, one in structures and the other in geotechnology.

"These funds will help us do more research, which should generate more funds in the future. It's a good beginning," he adds. "It turns out that this is very timely," says Altiero. "because we are about to the renovate the civil engineering building."

For the past several years the department has carried on a campaign to raise funds to renovate the civil engineering building, which is one of the original structures on the uptown campus. Engineering classes were first held there in 1894 in the front building of a cluster of structures that was then called the mechanical and electrical laboratories building.

"The building is old, and the spaces are not efficiently used," says Altiero. "The renovation will open up the space to create big laboratory areas and to redo the offices."

The funds collected by the campaign were intended to help renovate the building, not to cover the cost of updating equipment for the building's laboratories. Then the Spaar fund was announced. "This gift addresses the No. 1 priority of the department's capital campaign," says Altiero, "and it addresses it perpetually because there will always be about $50,000 a year for laboratory upgrading, and of course, that's important."

Work on the renovation is scheduled to start as soon as classes end in May, with completion planned for the middle of the fall semester. "It's a tight window," says Altiero. "We're timing it in such a way that we have as little disruption as possible."

"This fund will give us the resources to be competitive with the very top schools in getting good graduate students," says Niklaus. "It's a really wonderful resource for this department to become a first-class, top-notch department."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000