It’s been nearly 13 years since Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the LSU School of Dentistry in Gentilly, marinating the campus in 8 feet of floodwater.

But now the school’s centerpiece, though reimagined, is back. Under sunny skies Wednesday, officials celebrated the opening of the new $31 million, 65,000-square-foot Advanced Clinical Care and Research Building.

This structure is designed to withstand the sort of flooding New Orleans saw in 2005. Unlike the building it replaced, this one has no basement or first floor.

“We initially wondered what it would take to rebuild it in place, but that would have meant waterproofing the basement, an arduous task with no guarantees,” said Rick Fenner with VergesRome Architects, a firm that partnered with Mathes Brierre Architects on the building's design. “Ultimately, everyone decided upon a new building with no basement and a raised first floor for flood prevention.”

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Planning for the new building started in 2006, but it took nine years to get approval for the reconceived structure. Construction began in 2015, and the last brick on the exterior was laid in December 2017.

“We have now finally been mitigated for the space that we lost… square foot for square foot, and department for department,” said Dr. Henry Gremillion, dean of the dentistry school. “We are now the only dental school in the country which currently has all of the specialty disciplines under one roof.”

Dental faculty members are doing serious research, Gremillion said, with labs that will engage in key clinical trials. The facility will offer care in every arena, from general dentistry, endodontics and periodontics to prosthodontics, orthodontics and oral pathology. A state-of-the-art diagnostic and radiology center is equipped with a cone-beam CT unit. There are also two high-tech operating rooms, five dental operatories and an enhanced research capacity.

The new building hosted its first patients Wednesday as laboratory equipment was delivered and operating rooms geared up. The new facility plans to intertwine dentistry with other medical disciplines and has begun collaborations with a whole array of other medical professionals.

Gremillion said a growing body of national and international research has shown that the mouth is the window to overall health, with compelling evidence showing that gum disease is related to heart attack, stroke, low-birth-weight babies and a host of other health problems.

“With our much greater understanding of how dentistry is intertwined with other medical disciplines, we are now collaborating with a whole array of other medical professionals,” Gremillion said.