University of Southern Mississippi officials are pleased with efforts to rebound from an EF-4 tornado that damaged buildings and landscaping on its Hattiesburg campus six months ago.
The storm roared through the Pine Belt Feb. 10 and struck the south side and main entrance of the university. Approximately 75 trees were destroyed and the front of the historic Ogletree House was severely damaged, along with some of the university’s fine arts facilities.
But with help from generous alumni and supporters of the university, tangible signs of recovery are already in place. Donations have supported the planting of new trees, new landscaping is in place and repairs to buildings and facilities that incurred damage are ongoing.
“Thanks in large part to the hard work of faculty, staff and students, as well as the overwhelming support of the Southern Miss family and elected officials, we are making significant progress in our recovery,” said Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett.
“I am reminded once again of how grateful I am that no lives were lost and no injuries were incurred on campus. We have an outstanding landscaping plan in place, which we are watching unfold, and we are also on track to make the repairs necessary to those structures and facilities that incurred damage.”
Highlights of the recovery effort include:
*More than $1.74 million has been raised through the USM Foundation for campus beautification and general tornado relief.
*Work on restoring the historic Ogletree House, home of the Alumni Association, will also begin soon. A contractor has been selected, and we anticipate repairs will take approximately a year once the contractor receives notice to proceed.
*The artificial playing surface at M.M. Roberts Stadium has been replaced, and the work on the scoreboard is expected to be complete for the football season-opener on Aug. 31.
*Tornado repairs at George Hurst Building, Marsh Hall and Mannoni Performing Arts Center (PAC) are nearly complete and additional enhancements involving all three will be bid this fall.
*Repairs and renovations to Marsh Hall will include transformation of what was the Art Museum into a student performance area. Other improvements will include an opera/choral rehearsal hall, a jazz rehearsal space, symphony office spaces, self-contained practice rooms and a state-of-the-art distance-learning lab.
*Once all repairs are complete, all of the Department of Art and Design, including a student gallery, will be housed in the George Hurst Building. Renovations to George Hurst will allow the department to replace graphic design studios, and add a senior graphic design workroom and faculty office spaces. Marsh Hall and PAC will be dedicated to the School of Music.
*The Rose Garden Phase of the Landscape Restoration Plan is underway with the installation of hardscape items, including sidewalks and a brick-seating wall. We also look forward to the dedication of the magnificent bronze eagle sculpture donated by alumnus Chuck Scianna in the fall. An evaluation of Lake Byron has taken place and other steps are being taken to prepare for expansion, which will increase storm water retention.
Southern Miss Alumni Association offices were temporarily relocated from the Ogletree House to The Accelerator, in Southern Miss’ innovation and commercialization park, known as The Garden.
Much of the original brick that collapsed in the damage to the Ogletree House will be used in the restoration, said Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Alumni Association.
One of the five original structures on campus, the building was the president’s home when the school opened as Mississippi Normal College in 1912. The university’s alumni offices moved into the facility in the mid-1970s after a new residence was built off campus for the president.
“The Ogletree House is the on-campus home for more than 100,000 alumni,” DeFatta said. “We’re anxious for it to be rehabilitated, not just for the staff of the Association but for the members of the Southern Miss family who frequent the building when returning to campus.”