The Military Science Building isn’t much different than any other aging building on campus--except that the military and ROTC programs were integral to the University’s founding. Now, almost 160 years later, the building is in disrepair, and these programs receive little support from the University.
“Our position on campus used to be deeply rooted,” said Johnathon Price, military science senior and ROTC recruiting officer. “The Corps has been pushed into this corner that we’re in, and now we’re sitting here struggling to keep our head above water.”
The roof leaks constantly and moisture gathers on the window sills, said Laura Morrow, interim executive director of Facility Services.
The two cannons that once marked the building as home to the country’s future men and women in uniform have since been removed, Price said. The hallways are filled with buckets collecting water from the leaking roof on rainy days, but moisture damage persists despite efforts to catch the water.
There’s a gaping hole in the parade field behind the building where the Corps of Cadets and ROTC students train.
But it’s not just the Military Science Building that’s been pushed to the backburner. As the building and facilities decline, so does the program’s prominence on campus. Prized University traditions like the march down Victory Hill, LSU Student Ambassadors and the Golden Girls are now absent of their military roots.
The Corps of Cadets commander used to hold a place in the student body president’s cabinet, but the last three administrations have not included a place for the commander, Price said.
The Corps of Cadets doesn’t receive funding from the University “despite being the sole reason this university exists,” Price said. William Tecumseh Sherman established the University in 1860 as a military seminary, one of a few land grant universities around the nation founded to develop military and agricultural programs.
The exposed piping in the yard is the result of two major domestic waterline failures that occurred in the beginning of January, Morrow said. The domestic waterline supplies water to the campus for use as drinking water, sink water and more. Despite the failure, Morrow said Facility Services was able to minimize water downtime.
The failure occurred when Facility Services began replacing old pipes behind the Military Science Building and along South Stadium Drive. The old pipe, which is anywhere from 40 to 80 years old, couldn’t accommodate connection to the new pipe, Morrow said.
The parade field behind the building, now obstructed by exposed piping and shallow holes from pooling water, serves as the ROTC’s only training area, Price said. Students can’t access the rappel tower in the training yard either.
“The area is now an active construction zone, but we don’t have anywhere [else] to go,” Price said.
Morrow said the pipe repairs are almost finished, and she’s working on a plan to level and re-sod the yard due to the water damage. But Facility Services is balancing the yard repair with a $900,000 roofing project that recently began and will continue for the next two and a half months.
Morrow said she expects the roofing project to yield “dramatic improvements” in the building. However, she said the roof and pipe repair are only a band aid for the almost 60-year-old building and its $11 million of deferred maintenance.
“Laura has to be very strategic with the way she spends maintenance dollars,” said Tammy Millican, executive director of facility and property oversight. “Do you continue to put money into building that has deferred maintenance costs and needs that are as much as the value of the building?”
But Facility Services is playing a balancing game with buildings like Military Science whose deferred maintenance cost almost equals the cost of a new building, Morrow said. And this building is just one of the many on campus to need renovations with a total of $720 million worth of deferred maintenance needs across LSU.
“Some of this stuff is minor but when you add this stuff together and consider that the space will likely move to a different building, we have to balance that with all the other hundreds of single story buildings and their issues,” Morrow said. “Then [we have to] try not to waste [or] spend money in the short term when the building might go away, so it’s a balancing act.”
Facility Services has a deferred maintenance list detailing all the repairs needed across all the campus buildings, Millican said. But limited funds only allows them to respond to emergencies like waterline failures.
“So we’re reactive and we don’t get much time to be proactive,” Morrow said.
The deferred maintenance across campus and the lack of funds to complete long-term repairs is just another consequence of cuts to higher education across the state, Millican said. There was a period of time when Facility Services at the University didn’t receive any deferred maintenance funding.
Despite the ROTC being one of the the longest standing student organizations, as of 2016 it wasn’t recognized by the University as an official student organization and had to re-establish its programs, Price said.
The University used to require every able-bodied male student to serve in the ROTC or Corps of Cadets programs for at least two years, Price said. However, the mandatory two-year conscription was revoked in the late 1960s. Since then, the Corps has decreased from around 7,000 students to 400 current students.
The University’s founding, military science and ROTC programs are similar to its sister university, Texas A&M, Price said. The two programs developed similarly and with identical rank structures until the '60s. But as the University cut funding, Texas A&M’s programs continued to excel while LSU’s diminished.
Price said Texas A&M is now considered a senior military college and that its well-funded and rigorous military science program is a selling point while recruiting new students. But the University has difficulty recruiting new students due to lack of funding and poor facilities.
“LSU made it very obvious that that’s not the direction that they wanted to take, and now we’re to the point that we don’t have any funding from the University,” Price said. “I’m the recruiting officer, and I can’t recruit the best in the state.”
Price said the equipment is also outdated. Most of what the University has available to military science students is surplus supplies that the program acquired on its own. Price said some of the equipment dates back to what his father used in the army during the Gulf War in the '90s.
As the University prepares to update its campus over the next 10 to 25 years, Price said military science students are concerned that their program’s needs won’t be considered during the new construction.
A contract agreement between the Department of Defense, ROTC program and the host school requires the University to maintain adequate facilities for the ROTC and Corps of Cadets programs. But Price said he’s concerned with the lack of plans for a new indoor range, rappel tower and parade field, all of which are considered necessary facilities for the military science program.
Millican and Morrow said the University’s Master Plan does include relocating the military science program to a newer building, which will provide the students with the necessary training facilities and equipment.
The Master Plan is a “high level view” over the next few decades, Millican said, so there isn’t a specific timeline for the military science relocation yet. But she said it’s likely the program will be relocated to a building nearby and that it will share that building with another program.
“We don’t have the ability to say this year, this group will move to this place, we just know that in the future, that group will not be in that building,” Millican said.