University of Southern Mississippi Tornado Damage Restoration Plan


After the storm: Neel-Schaffer helps USM rebuild

After an EF-4 tornado did severe damage to parts of the University of Southern Mississippi campus in February 2013, the university contracted with Neel-Schaffer to design a plan to help rebuild, renovate, and enhance the campus. Most of the severe damage was done to landscaping along the Hardy Street and MS 49 entrance to the campus in Hattiesburg. The Front Campus Landscape Restoration and Enhancement plan was a multi-phased effort to repair and replace what was damaged or lost, and to also make improvements that enrich the experience for all campus visitors.

Among the areas that sustained heavy damage were the iconic rose garden and the Lake Byron area. The first phase of the project was the cleanup that occurred soon after the tornado hit. Some of the trees that were destroyed included historic legacy oaks. Five mature live oaks, between 25 and 30 years old, were trucked to Hattiesburg from Florida and transplanted.

The next phase completed was the Rose Garden phase, which included a large bronze golden eagle sculpture to complement the plaza area, and small shrubs and ground covers. The existing irrigation system was improved and irrigation was added.

The Lake Byron Phase included an expansion of the lake, an attractive bulkhead, and an aerating pond fountain. The spillway structure was modified to permit the retention and release of storm water.

Hardscape improvements included a new bridge, sidewalks, and a retaining wall that offers opportunity to honor donors and/or distinguished individuals.

Landscape improvements included the planting of native trees around Lake Byron.’

Before the tornado hit, Neel-Schaffer had helped Southern Miss write a grant to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, seeking money needed to build a fence around the campus perimeter.

The fence was 75-percent complete when the storm blew through. Neel-Schaffer was able to restore damaged areas and complete the fence as a part of the restoration process. Overall, the fence cost $518,000.

The resources and expertise of multiple arborists, members of the university’s Biological Sciences department, and the Tree Management Task Force were used to create the plan. These specialists played an active role in determining tree and plant species, age, size and other characteristics important to maintaining a healthy landscape. This plan represents the resiliency of the Hattiesburg and campus communities, while offering the opportunity to create attractive and functional interactive space for future generations of Southern Miss students, faculty, staff and visitors.

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