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Ground was broken for a new way of learning at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette on Wednesday. A new Hilton Garden Inn complete with an educational training facility will be constructed at University Research Park.

The project, which has been in development for a few years now, faced several setbacks including the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001.

"We are glad to see this project come to fruition," said UL Lafayette President Ray Authement. "This hotel will not only serve the visitors to this area, but it will also support the university by helping to train students in the hospitality program."

The hotel will have 150 rooms with 29 suites and will be located near the corner of West Congress Street and Cajundome Boulevard. Plans include a 3,300 square foot ballroom on the top floor, a 1,300 square foot meeting room, indoor swimming pool, business center and exercise room. In addition, high speed Internet access will be in all rooms and a free-standing, full service restaurant will be next door.

More than 2,000 square feet will be dedicated to an educational training facility. This will include space for classroom teaching as well as training with the latest industry technology. Areas for audio, video and training equipment along with offices for teachers and trainers will also be provided.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for our hospitality students," said Dr. Linda Vincent, dean of the College of Applied Life Sciences. "They will be able to experience firsthand what they are learning in the classroom. You can't bring learning alive more than this."

Members of the hotel management's team will act as advisors to the university's hotel and restaurant management programs and will be available to provide expertise where needed along with internships for students.

The hotel is also expected participate in the university's research into energy and water usage. If so, remote tenant water and electric meters would be placed in several hotel rooms. Usage of energy and water from these rooms will be calculated and studied periodically, creating an ongoing study of energy and water usage by hotel guests.

"This project will once again allow the university to showcase its strength in research while also providing local businesses with helpful knowledge they can put to use," said Authement.

Hotel owners include S.L. Sethi of Canton, MS; and Tommy Vervaeke of Mandeville. Developers include Jackie's International of Canton, MS; and ProImage Property of Mandeville. Architect for the project is Roy Hendrick of Baton Rouge and the construction company is Certified Construction Company from Canton, MS.

Construction of the project is expected to take between 10 and 12 months.

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