Severe storms hit campus on first day after winter break

Oglethorpe University lived up to the reputation of being resilient Stormy Petrels Jan. 4, when strong storms hit the area downing trees, knocking out power and causing damage to some roofs of buildings on campus.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. Jan. 4, the day the campus was scheduled to reopen after the winter break, a significant wind event impacted the southeast portion of campus. The National Weather Service (NWS) reported there were 75 m.p.h. wind gusts and sustained winds of 30-plus m.p.h. during that time. The campus also received a total of 2.6 inches of rain during the night.

Power was knocked out at 5:30 a.m., and most buildings connected to the southeastern power grid were down during the day. Power was restored to most buildings by 12:30 p.m. with Conant Performing Arts Center and Goodman Hall going back online later in the afternoon.

Thanks to the quick response by staff and utility companies, the campus was back up and running by the next day without impact to J-term classes.

“The facilities team under the direction of Lance Knight did a great job getting the roads cleared and the campus ready for us to return in one day,” said Pete Stobie, chief financial officer and vice president for business and finance. “Georgia Power also responded in a timely way to restore our power which helped us get up and running quickly.”

Once the storm moved out, OU facilities team members and crews from Arbormedics began the process of clearing the downed trees. Arborist Chris Hughes, who has been working with OU for years, came out and inspected all tree damage and provided recommendations for the damaged trees that were still standing.

The loss to the tree canopy is currently at 17 trees, most notably the magnolia located at Cousins Center, the “Patillo” oak located in the central part of the quad and the giant red maple located outside of Hearst all fell or had to be taken down because of severe damage. Portions of the trees were saved to be dried and milled to be used again on campus in some capacity as with previous losses of historically significant trees.

In addition to the trees, Lupton Hall, Dorough Field House, Goodman Hall, Robinson Hall, and Lowry Hall and Hearst Hall were all impacted to varying degrees.

Athletics’s outdoor facilities also received damage including the baseball field outfield fencing and portions of the scoreboard.

“Above all else, I’m glad no one was hurt,” said Knight, assistant vice president of campus operations. “I’m proud of all of the efforts by the facilities team, who as soon as the weather cleared and it was safe, jumped into action to assess the damage and begin the work of organizing the clean-up process. Their quick efforts provided us with the information to shut the campus down and keep our community safe.”

The loss of the trees is particularly acute for the historic campus with a reputation for natural and architectural beauty. Beginning this academic year, Oglethorpe University joins several peer Georgia institutions as one of the Arbor Day Foundation‘s Tree Campuses. The designation means Oglethorpe has committed to maintaining a healthy, green campus, benefiting both the community and the environment. And the successful transplant of 22 mature trees from the Gables Brookhaven site to nearby Brookhaven Park won the first ever Tree Preservation and Planting Award from the City of Brookhaven’s Community Development Department in 2016.

The university is looking into ways of honoring the experiences people had in relation to the fallen tree, and an update will be provided in the near future.

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