Campus powers up with the helping hand from former student

Published on: October 06, 2008

Some say a college campus is like a small town, run by a mayor-the president-and populated by more than 11,000 students, faculty and staff...and much like families send their children out into the world after a certain age, the college campus sends its graduates into the world to accomplish their goals and fulfill their dreams.

The "small town" that is Lone Star College-North Harris, comprises 200 acres, much of it heavily wooded, and as Hurricane Ike barreled through North Houston in mid-September, many of the tall pines and old oaks that had stood sentry over the campus were twisted, broken and uprooted. The result, along with the loss of electric power, was debris scattered across the usually neatly manicured acreage.

"Because of the hard driving rain and winds that accompanied ‘Ike,' we had a few miscellaneous leaks and water that had come through louvered vents and under doors, but nothing major in the way of damage," said Bobby Rivers director of facilities for the north Houston campus."

Altogether, 50 trees were lost, but the major work to be done after the storm-aside from the restoration of power-was clearing debris. With everyone working together, the campus was clear of Ike's chaotic calling card within a week.

But, it was the power that kept professors away from lectures and students out of class for two weeks.

"Like everyone else in Houston," we had to wait our turn," Rivers explained. "We had one downed power pole, which had to be replaced, along with transmission lines. We also had to wait until everyone around us on the power grid was up and running."

Now, here's the serendipity of this story:

Back in 1995, Alan Heuston graduated from what was then North Harris College. Heuston returned to earn an associate of arts degree at the community college after his first attempt at completing his bachelor's degree was interrupted when Hurricane Alicia hit the Gulf Coast.

How can a storm cause that type of interruption?

Because Heuston was employed by what is now CenterPoint Energy and any time electrical service is interrupted, he's called out, along with legions of others to restore power.

"During my 37 years with the light company," explained Heuston, now a head network tester, there have been numerous storms where we've had to step up for restoration efforts. After Alicia, there was Allison and now this storm. After a storm, my life gets put on hold until everybody else has power."

Heuston said he chose LSC-North Harris for his education because it is one of the top-rated community colleges in the area. "It was convenient because I was able to work during the day and take care of my studies at night...and it was a great experience. I felt good about my educational experience, I graduated with honors and what I gained with my degree has definitely helped me in the long run."

As soon as Ike's lagging winds and rain had slacked off, Heuston and crews from CenterPoint were out at 10 a.m. Saturday, beginning the mammoth restoration effort to power more than 2.2 million homes and businesses Ike had left without electricity. 

"It was probably the largest power loss in our history," he added.

"We lost our electrical when the storm hit, early in the afternoon on Friday, Sept. 12," Rivers said, "and we were without power until Sept. 25.

Heuston said when he was called and asked to go to the college to get the power on; he said it felt like helping family. "I felt a certain amount of loyalty...just helping them get back online. You want to do whatever you can to help...and I felt like this was my family."

In his 37 years with the power company, Heuston said he had become accustomed to 16-hour days, seven days a week. "We're currently on day 19," he said during his Oct. 1 interview. "We may shorten shifts a little, but we'll still be working overtime for the foreseeable future.

"We're still in process of restoring people. They may have power in Galveston in a day or two, but we still don't know when we'll have a day to clean up our own damage."

The LSC-North Harris grad said it was too early to estimate the cost, but every CenterPoint employee -from meter readers on up are in the field. "Plus we have crews that have come in from other states, and as far away as Canada. That's part of our mutual assistance agreement-whenever there's storm damage, we pick up and go restore power in other locales."

"The positive aspect of all of this," Rivers said," is that it really instilled a team spirit across the campus. The facilities team, along the campus police and information technology departments pulled together to make things happen and correct problems so students could return. We had everyone working-mechanics, technicians, facilities administrators-to clear debris with a determination to get our students back on campus as soon as possible."

Heuston has experienced, first hand, the old saying, "What goes around comes around."

It was a storm that interrupted his studies more than a decade ago...and it was Hurricane Ike that brought him back to his campus roots. "I've given some thought to coming back to LSC-North Harris and taking more courses. I don't think you ever stop learning," the CenterPoint veteran said.

Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. It is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu.

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