Downed trees alter campus landscape
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 02:02
During the tornado that devastated Hattiesburg two weeks ago, prominent buildings on the University of Southern Mississippi campus, including the Performing Arts Center and Ogletree Alumni House, were heavily damaged, and it will take months for those buildings to aesthetically get back to normal.
Though the buildings are vital to Southern Miss in terms of academics and alumni relations, they are already in the process of being rebuilt.
However, the tornado also took about 75 trees at the front of campus, landmarks that can’t be so easily replaced. Planted in the 1920s, the oaks that stood in the historic district graced the landscape of the front of campus, making it a beautiful entryway into the heart of campus.
Now those same trees are nothing but stumps, leaving an open and bare campus for all motorist on Hardy Street to see. USM Superintendent of Campus Landscape Loren Erickson surveyed the damage shortly following the storm.
“My initial thoughts were shock and amazement at seeing one of our largest, oldest live oaks blown up and all the other trees lying shredded in the road,” Erickson told University Communications. “When I saw it by the light of day, I was absolutely devastated. So much of USM, and the community as a whole, kind of identifies with the front of campus. I knew there would be a huge sense of loss.”
Kimberly Gaddis, an admissions counselor in the Office of Admissions, said the oak trees surrounding Lake Byron and The District made campus homey. “The front of campus has always been my favorite because of the history, and the oak trees added a lot of character,” Gaddis said. “Thankfully, the oak tree in front of Kennard-Washington made it through the storm.”
Erickson said the process of replanting and landscaping will be a delicate process, due to extensive ground repair, grading and irrigation repair. If the ground is not properly restored before replanting trees and other plant life, it will become too wet and uninhabitable. Drainage has also been affected, along with grass needing to be grown via sod or seed.
Kenneth Rhinehart, adjunct professor of environmental science and a member of the University’s Tree Management Task Force, told University Communications that he counted the rings on the live oak in The District, with a total of about 90 rings. Rhinehart said there is a positive, a clean slate.
“There are already a couple of plans for that part of campus on file. We will dust those files off and add our twist to the design,” said Rhinehart. “Science has a term for such an event – ‘punctuated equilibria,’ which means that things stay the same until a catastrophe and then a new order takes over. Well, a new order will take over, and everyone will be proud of the results.”