USM moves to second phase of tornado recovery efforts

HATTIESBURG — The University of Southern Mississippi is moving into the second phase of a comprehensive landscaping plan to restore the southern edge of its Hattiesburg campus that suffered extensive damage from a Feb. 10 tornado.

The initial phase of the $3-million project – which included planting of five mature live oak trees, grass sodding and major irrigation work – wrapped up earlier this month.

“I am very pleased with the progress and the direction of this mammoth undertaking,” said Loren Erickson, superintendent of landscape at Southern Miss. “We have some of the best minds available on this project and it is being well directed. Now that we have the Gateway Phase completed, I am encouraged and excited to see the transformation continue.”

Erickson points out that the next phase will concentrate on new sidewalks, seating areas and lighting for the University’s renowned Rose Garden. The project will ultimately feature more than 130 trees, a new irrigation system and significant improvements to Lake Byron.

The highlight of the initial phase involved the planting of five oak trees, measuring 40-feet high by 40-feet wide, supplied by Florida-based grower The Magnolia Company. Despite some brown spots among the branches, Erickson stresses that the trees are thriving in their new home.

“The browning is actually some minor breakage and stress from taking a 40-feet wide tree and tying it to fit on a 16-foot wide flatbed, then transporting it from Florida,” said Erickson. “We knew going in that there would be some leaf stress from transplanting, as well. The trees themselves are doing very well. If you get up next to them you will see a healthy flush of new growth even at the tips where it is most important. The brown bits are not dying or any cause for alarm.”

The F-4 tornado that struck Hattiesburg destroyed approximately 75 trees on the Southern Miss campus. In that group were four legacy oaks, estimated to be more than 90 years old. On April 15 the University announced the Front Campus Landscape Restoration and Enhancement Plan, spearheaded by landscape architect Russ Bryan of Neel-Schaffer. At the same time, the USM Foundation announced a campus beautification campaign to generate private funds to help address the cost of the plan.

An initial gift of $100,000 from the Southern Miss Alumni Association helped kick-start the campaign which received a tremendous boost when an anonymous donor made a $1 million gift commitment. On May 8, the Foundation encouraged supporters to participate in a “Day of Giving” as part of the campaign. In all, 374 gifts were given from 37 states, totaling $130,234 in a 24-hour period.

“We are obviously extremely grateful for the generosity of alumni and friends who have allowed our landscaping restoration efforts to progress at such a rapid pace,” said Bob Pierce, vice president for Advancement. “The Gateway Phase of the restoration project has turned out wonderfully and we know that thanks to the private contributions provided the remainder of the project will be successful as well.”

“As many know, we temporarily suspended our solicitations out of respect for the tornado victims in Oklahoma,” said Pierce. “We are now resuming those solicitations as the initiative to restore this vital and vibrant part of our campus moves ahead.”

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