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Private donors aid Wooster restoration

Martha Filipic

Nearly four months after a tornado tore through the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, considerable restoration continues.

The campus has received donations valued at more than $127,000, OARDC officials said.

The OARDC is part of the Ohio State College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The Agricultural Building might be demolished in favor of renovation, depending on structural engineers’ and insurance agents’ decisions, said Steven Slack, OARDC director. There is no timeline for when those decisions will be made.

The portion of the campus needing the most work, Secrest Arboretum, has received more than $100,000 in donations and gifts, such as trees and plants, valued at more than $20,000.

The donations have come from private donors, including those from the heirs of Edmund Secrest, for whom the Arboretum is named, and Ohio plant nurseries, OARDC officials said.

The Lantern made an official request for the private donors’ contact information on Dec. 21, but has not yet received the records.

Ohio nurseries learned of the need for donations through the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association.

“When we heard about the tornado, we immediately sent alerts out to our members,” said Jennifer Gray, ONLA associate executive director.

After receiving the alert, Brotzman’s Nursery in Madison, Ohio, donated five types of plants valued at “about $1,000,” owner Tim Brotzman said.

“It’s important to us that Secrest remain strong in both the diversity of its collection and its educational mission,” he said.

The Arboretum is the only area still closed to staff and students. Once stones are set for erosion control, the school will review the area with Public Safety to determine if roads can be reopened, Slack said.

Two semi-truck loads of trees have been donated to this point from Ohio nurseries, said Ken Cochran, Secrest program director.

Willoway Nurseries in Avon, Ohio, donated one of those truck loads valued at $7,000, said Emily Showalter, Human Resource representative.

Nurseries do not expect the donations to stop.

“This is the first of a longterm ongoing commitment to rebuild Secrest by our nursery community,” Brotzman said.

The damage to greenhouses was also extensive.

“Williams (Hall) Greenhouse Complex will be totally removed and we are in the process of putting up temporary greenhouses to cover that function … it may take two to three years for that to be replaced,” Slack said.

The main campus has less obvious damage, which will not take as long to repair.

“If you’ve never been to the campus it’s not that obvious that a tornado went through, but if you knew what the campus looked like before then obviously you can still tell,” said Mauricio Espinoza, OARDC communications specialist. “What you can see now is the absence of what was there.”

The most significant building damage remains in the Research Services Building, which houses the administrative offices, and the Agricultural Engineering Building.

The construction at those two locations has caused employees to temporarily relocate to buildings throughout the campus.

“It creates some disruptions, but for the most part, the employees are handling it well,” Espinoza said.

The replacement of the roof at the Research Services Building is expected to go on through March, Slack said.

Confusion regarding timelines and dollar estimates for the Wooster campus restoration has come from dealing with insurance, Slack said.

“Because of the number of buildings and severity of the loss, it will be a process that will take a while to work out the details,” Slack said.

Insurance does not cover loss to graduate student research but there is ongoing fundraising to offset this cost. The campus has raised almost $7,000 to support these students.

Despite the extensive damages, officials acknowledge things could have been far worse.

“The forever saving grace on this is that no one was seriously injured or killed,” Slack said. “That’s quite remarkable given the damage.” 

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