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After tornado, $13.8M to revive Wooster campus

Courtesy of the OARDC

A tornado that ripped through the Ohio State Wooster campus more than a year ago caused major damage to several buildings in the area, racking up a $13.8 million repair project.

The most severe damage was to two of the campus’ main administrative buildings: the agricultural engineering building and research operations.

“An amazing amount of work has been done up on the campus in the past 12 or 13 months since the tornado,” said Mary Lynn Readey, associate vice president of facilities operations and development.

Tori Flott, a student at the Wooster campus, was standing outside her college apartment in September 2010 when she looked up at the sky and noticed it turning shades of black and felt the wind starting to pick up. Flott realized that a tornado was heading directly toward the college campus where she stood.

“I was standing outside my apartment on Ruby Court when we heard the tornado siren go off,” Flott said. “The tornado was coming straight at us, but then it did a 90 degree turn and went into the arboretum.”

The Secrest Arboretum at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center was the building that sustained the most damage.

“Depending on the way you count different things, we have had nearly 80 structures or buildings that have had repair work, renovation work or replacement work,” Readey said. “A tremendous amount of work has been done.”

Readey said that some buildings were unusable because of the severe damage that had been done.

The $13.8 million project will replace the agricultural engineering building. It will include offices, administrative support area and labs and will support the campus priority of providing modern research laboratories according to board of trustees documents.

“This project is a replacement of one of the buildings that was severely damaged in the tornado. What is left of the old building will come down and a new research building will be put in its place,” Readey said.

According to ATI Housing Director Ashley Brightbill, the tornado flattened one of the OARDC’s greenhouses and severely damaged others.

“There was a lot of damage at first, and the extent of the damage was unknown for a while. At least no one was severely hurt,” Brightbill said.

Caleb Wright, a Resident Advisor for ATI last year, was driving down the road when the tornado hit. Wright said he still remembers what he was thinking as debris was flying across the road.

“Someone, somewhere has to be watching out for me,” Wright said.

David Benfield is the associate director of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

He said the new replacement would give students a new state-of-the-art facility that will allow them to work with the resources and research of today’s bio-diversity industry.

“One difference will be in the bio-processing area,” Benfield said. “The new facility will have a large open space with high ceilings for students to bring in larger production type equipment to conduct research they would not have been able to do in the old building.”

Benfield said the biggest cost was that of lost work.

“While it is easier to put a price tag on damaged buildings, the cost of student’s destroyed research materials is the most difficult to calculate and very devastating. It is something you never want to go through,” Benfield said.

Wright still likes to take time to go and check in on the Arboretum.

“All of the trees that were lost, it’s sad … a big part of history was lost that day,” Wright said. “Keeping an eye on the renovations is interesting —­ just to see how they are going to build the arboretum back up.”

Benfield said the goal now is in the vision of looking forward.

“The best part is the strategic planning and opportunity to build a new, exciting facility that better meets the needs of the program,” Benfield said. “It will be compelling to see how it impacts research in the future.”

Brooke Beam, a fourth-year in agricultural communication, said agriculture impacts everything in our lives, and having research facilities that can help make advancements in the industry will be a great asset.

“The university has been very good in working with us to get the new building in a timely manner,” Benfield said. “We hope we can hit our target date of December 2014, so we can relocate to the new facility.”

Flott said if anything, this experience has made her more aware of her surroundings.

“I haven’t had to deal with another tornado siren since then,” Flott said. “I’m sure when I do have to I will be more aware of my surroundings and know where the tornado shelters are.”

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