Set in stone: NSU honors former president Dr. Robert Alost with new academic building

Gov. John Bel Edwards attended Northwestern State University’s groundbreaking of a new academic building.
Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 7:29 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 14, 2023 at 7:30 PM CDT
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NATCHITOCHES, La. (NSU/KALB) - Gov. Jon Bel Edwards was among those in hardhats Tuesday, March 14, when officials at Northwestern State University broke ground on what will be a state-of-the-art academic building named for former NSU President Dr. Robert Alost. Edwards said the groundbreaking on the $44 million investment represents the progress Louisiana is making by investing in education.

“It is incredibly significant for everybody, and for students that are not even on campus yet, students who are not even born yet. They are going to benefit from this investment, so in a very real way this groundbreaking is a testament to the work that we have all done collectively to invest again in higher education,” Edwards said. “Education is the engine for economic growth and diversification. It is the key to opportunity and prosperity for everybody.”

NSU President Dr. Marcus Jones said the groundbreaking marks a historic moment at the university.

“Today, we gather to celebrate the start of a new chapter in the life of our institution as we begin construction of the state-of-the-art building that will serve as the hub of innovation, collaboration and learning for generations of students, faculty and staff to come,” Jones said. “This groundbreaking is a testament to the unwavering commitment of excellence in education, research and service to our community.”

Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System and a past president of NSU, said Louisiana is experiencing a renaissance in higher education and that when complete, Alost Hall will be the preeminent academic building in the state.

Henderson recalled the mid-1980s when budget shortfalls in Louisiana threatened higher education and NSU’s future was uncertain. Alost was named the university’s president in the midst of that crisis.

“He poured himself into this institution to ensure that this institution would not only survive but thrive, and if you look at the growth that occurred in the most difficult of times, it was because of Bobby Alost,” Henderson said.

Alost was president of the university from 1986-1996. He died in 2020 at age 85. Before becoming president, Alost served NSU as a faculty member, department head and dean. He was also co-founder of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts and director of the school from 1982 to 1986.

“Dr. Robert Alost, our 16th president, understood the power of education to transform lives and build a better future. He was a visionary who dedicated his life to the betterment of our society through education, and it is a fitting to honor his family’s legacy in this way,” Jones said.

“I think this signifies just how important education is to our state and higher education in particular,” said Edwards. “And then his role in higher education here as the 16th president from 1986 to 1996, when the enrollment doubled in a very difficult time and really made sure that, not only did Northwestern State survive during a very difficult period, but it actually grew and thrived.”

Several members of the Alost family were present, as well as current and former legislators, higher education officials and university supporters.

Of those current legislators, Sen. Jay Luneau (D-District 29) and Sen. Louie Bernard (R-District 31) were instrumental in getting the capital outlay project funded in the state Senate.

“It’s been a long time coming, and it’s much needed and well-deserved,” said Luneau. “It’s a great day for Northwestern, and a great day for Louisiana.”

For Bernard, however, it was not just a legislative matter. Bernard, who has served decades in Natchitoches Parish public service, knew Alost well.

“He just commanded such respect from people. He just was foundational in all things NSU,” said Bernard. “All of the things that have happened on his watch were not things that he snapped a finger and did. He laid the groundwork for all of that.”

The new building will replace John S. Kyser Hall, constructed in 1968, as the university’s main academic building.

At 73,200 square feet, Alost Hall will feature large multipurpose classrooms that can open into one large multi-functional area, simulation laboratories for graduate and undergraduate nursing and anesthesia programs, a social work/psychology clinic and training area, a café, a dozen 30-person classrooms, two 40-person classrooms and three 50-person classrooms. There will be space for 60 offices and an administrative office suite that could include spaces for deans, department heads, administrative assistants, a large conference room and a reception area.

“I’m really excited about the new building,” said Student Government Association President Bailey Willis of Opelousas. “It will help with recruiting and the updated technology is a big advantage for our campus. It’s a milestone for sure.”

“We’re not just building big, beautiful buildings, we are investing in the operational dollars to make sure we are providing world-class education in those buildings. That’s how we’re going to transform our state,” Edwards said.

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