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Wooster tornado damage will likely cost millions

Martha Filipic

Damage from the tornado that ripped through Ohio State’s Wooster campus more than six weeks ago will likely cost millions of dollars to repair, university officials said.

“They are still trying to get the (total cost) together, but I don’t think there is any doubt that it will be in the tens of millions of dollars,” said David Benfield, associate director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Other officials warned against setting any number in stone, as the damage is still being evaluated. But the final bill could exceed $10 million, said Mary Lynn Readey, associate vice president of OSU’s Facilities Operations and Development, at a meeting of the Agricultural Affairs Committee late last week.

The insurance company paying the claims, Zurich Business Insurance, has yet to determine the final cost of repairs. The university is also working with Marsh, an insurance broker and risk adviser.

The cost will ultimately include repairs for buildings damaged in the storm, including the administration building, greenhouses and the Secrest Arboretum.

Estimates for the arboretum alone are thought to exceed $350,000, including projects such as planting new trees and other plants, said Ken Cochran, the arboretum’s director.

Officials said it’s easier to put a price tag on damaged buildings, but the cost of destroyed research materials is difficult to calculate.

“How do you put a number to tomatoes that contain high amounts of lycopene that can help fight cancer?” said Mauricio Espinoza, communications specialist for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

During the past six weeks, crews have finished cleaning up debris on the campus. Much of their work involved cutting down trees and removing stumps, Espinoza said.

Workers are replacing broken windows and doors, and officials are ready to begin major renovations on some buildings.

Officials at the satellite campus are working with OSU’s Facilities Operations and Development department to contract architects for the renovations, Benfield said.

He said it is uncertain whether the Agricultural Engineering Building will be renovated or if crews will demolish and rebuild it. He said the decision is up to the insurance company.

The greenhouses that were destroyed will be demolished and rebuilt, Espinoza said.

Temporary greenhouses are expected to be built in about a month to house surviving plants, said Steven Slack, associate vice president for Agricultural Administration and director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, during the meeting last week.

Plans for new projects in the Secrest Arboretum include planting bulbs and trees in the 102-year-old outdoor laboratory, Cochran said, but it’s uncertain whether the arboretum will be restored to its original design.

The campus is still closed to the public, but Cochran said he hopes to have the arboretum open by Monday.

Cochran had hoped the arboretum would be open earlier, but because of rain last week, the opening date was pushed back.

Nearly two months after the storm, which spurred a series of tornadoes throughout the state, Cochran is still shocked.

“I can’t believe it happened in our own backyard,” he said. “You read about tornados, you read about floods, but it never happens in your own place, in your own surroundings.”

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