November 23, 2014  

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Southern Miss Announces Plan to Restore Campus Landscape After Tornado

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Southern Miss officials announced a campus beautification plan designed to restore the front portion of the Hattiesburg campus that suffered severe damage from the Feb. 10 tornado. (Photo by Kelly Dunn)

The University of Southern Mississippi announced on Monday, April 15 a comprehensive landscaping plan to restore the southern edge of the University’s Hattiesburg campus that was heavily damaged by an EF-4 tornado on February 10. The USM Foundation also announced a campus beautification campaign to generate private funds to help address the cost of the plan.

The landscape of the campus was drastically altered by the tornado with the loss of 75 trees and debris scattered across the front of the campus. In the days following the storm, University officials, including members of the Physical Plant, Tree Management Task Force and Department of Biology, worked with Neel-Schaffer, Inc. to develop a landscape restoration plan to repair what was damaged or lost and make improvements to enrich the historic campus.

“This area holds such importance and so many memories for our students, alumni and friends. As our ‘front porch’, it serves as our visitors’ first impression of a campus community that is bursting with tradition, resilience and the passion to make Southern Miss better every day,” said University President Rodney Bennett. “Our team has worked diligently to create a landscape restoration plan, but we cannot succeed without the support of private funding through the Southern Miss Campus Beautification Campaign. As a University community, we have the unique opportunity to join together and recreate this important aspect of our campus.”

The Front Campus Landscape Restoration and Enhancement Plan, spearheaded by landscape architect Russ Bryan of Neel-Schaffer, focuses on providing a framework for creating desirable views of campus landmarks that highlight the southern “front porch” of the University. Lake Byron will also receive improvements such as an increase in size and the ability to temporarily retain storm water. The project is expected to add additional sidewalks, more than 130 trees and an irrigation system when complete.

“The plan will be a multi-phased project that will not only restore an attractive campus frontage but will also provide stronger off-campus pedestrian connections, better accessibility to key areas such as the All American Rose Garden and nodes of interaction to enrich the campus experience,” said Bryan.

Due to the cost of the project, it will be implemented in phases beginning with the area directly in front of the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building. Work on this area, known as the Gateway Phase, is expected to begin by the end of the month. Additional phases will be completed as seasonal planting conditions and funding permits. The restoration plan is available online for public review and comment through April 20 at www.usm.edu/physicalplant.

“So much thought and preparation has gone into this plan and we are very excited about what it will allow us to bring to the front of campus,” said Loren Erickson, superintendent of campus landscape. “This area is such a significant part of the campus and the Hattiesburg community. We welcome feedback from all those who enjoy it and have memories associated with it.” 

While insurance will cover the cost of repairing most of the University’s structures, only $250,000 in coverage can be designated to restoring the landscape. The USM Foundation’s Southern Miss Campus Beautification Campaign will generate private gifts to help fund the landscape restoration plan, which is projected to cost $3 million.

Bob Pierce, vice president for university advancement, made the campaign announcement. “Due to the significant expense associated with this very necessary project following an unexpected natural disaster, I believe our alumni and supporters in the local community and beyond will participate financially in helping us restore the beauty of the front of our Hattiesburg campus. This is an essential and important project for the entire University.”

The campaign is off to a strong start with a $100,000 commitment from the Southern Miss Alumni Association. The Association also received significant tornado damage to its offices in the Ogletree House.

“Due to the significant damage the Ogletree House sustained in the wake of the February 10 tornado, the Alumni Association has a clear understanding of the challenges that face the University as a whole,” said Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association. “Although a team of construction professionals is working diligently to repair the historic structure, the Campus Beautification Campaign provides our organization with an opportunity to financially support the University's efforts to repair the main entrance to the Hattiesburg campus.”

For more information on the Southern Miss Campus Beautification Campaign and to view the landscape restoration plan, visit www.usmfoundation.com/restore.