WOOSTER, Ohio — On the same day the Ohio State University-Wooster campus marked the one-year anniversary of a damaging tornado, its staff and volunteers also celebrated new growth and the opening of a new state-of-the-art research facility.
Exactly one year ago, on Sept. 16, 2010, an EF-2 tornado blew across campus damaging nearly 80 buildings, 24 greenhouses and 1,600 trees. The cost, which is still being calculated, is believed between $25 million to $30 million.
Not a single life was lost — human nor livestock — and no serious injuries were reported, a marvel still weighing heavily on the minds of staff at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
“The recovery process, to me, and how fast that occurred, has been nothing short of miraculous,” said OARDC Director Steve Slack.
The past, and the future
A slide show presentation showed pictures of the devastation. Although a full year has passed, Slack said remembering the past is a natural part of the “grieving” process.
“You almost have to relive some of this so you can let go,” he said.
State Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, said people at the OARDC have had to “adapt and overcome” to what has happened.
The group later convened at the site of the newly constructed Plant and Animal Agrosecurity Research Facility — where it was clear that minds are focussed on the future.
The building is one of only two in the nation to house highly secure laboratories for plant and animal disease research. It’s commonly called the PAAR — pronounced like the golf term “par.” But the building, with all its highly secure features and jagged metal fence, make it an unusual addition.
“When you think of the word par, this building is anything but average,” Slack said. “In golf I would argue that this is 10 under par. This is priceless and it’s priceless because of what it protects and what it enables us to do in the future.”
Speakers: State Rep. Ron Amstutz, Congressman Ralph Regula, Wooster Mayor Bob Breneman
Researchers hope to use the facility in the near future to study common issues like emerald ash borer, soybean rust and soybean aphids. More research projects are expected, as new diseases and risks come into existence.
One thing in common — the research will seek ways to secure and protect the livestock and crop industries from diseases. That means food security, food safety and availability.
Guest speaker Ralph Regula, former U.S. Congressman and farmer from Canton, reminded the crowd of the severity of animal and plant diseases and the need to feed a rapidly growing world population. The popular estimate is population will double by 2050.
“We take for granted that that food is safe, we take for granted that when we buy something in a can or whatever that somebody is making sure that it is safe for our human consumption,” said the 18-term Congressman, who left Washington D.C. on the weekends to work on his own farm.
“The ability of this globe of ours to feed the growing population will be a severe problem in the future,” he said. “That’s why it is so important that we have facilities like OARDC where you develop a cutting edge technology … that will make our land and our crops and our agriculture more productive. Otherwise, we won’t be able to meet the needs of the growing population.”
Dave Benfield, associate director at OARDC, presented a fast-paced webcam show of the PAAR being built. He called it “Extreme building makeover” and it showed the construction process from beginning to end.
Slack said the building means good things for Ohio and its researchers, but also is a national and international step toward the future. Events like the tornado last year, and the Sept. 11 attacks 10 years ago are reminders of how important safe, abundant food is for survival and a strong economy.
“I think that one of the things that came out of that (Sept. 11) was the recognition of how critical the food and fiber and fuel supply is to this country,” he said. “If you look at agriculture and you look at our water supplies, all of this got ratcheted up in people’s minds at that time.”
Amstutz said we live in a world of threats, and the new labs give new opportunity for researchers to isolate and study more of those threats.
“It is very fitting that as we look back to the natural disaster that happened a year ago and the human imposed disaster of 10 years ago, that we are stepping forward with an asset that will help us … protect our food supply and the threats to it,” he said.
The facility will not be fully operational for at least another year — mostly because of time it takes to clear all the federal certifications.
Bobby Moser, dean of the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, said he was impressed by the level of security he saw when he toured the inside.
“I was blown away by what was in it, to see what it’s like and what it takes to get a facility like this up and running,” he said.
The only other similar lab is operated by Kansas State University, he said.
A welcome addition
Wooster Mayor Bob Breneman has often called the OARDC one of the “gems” of his city. He looks forward to new researchers coming to use the facility, and the broader work of the university through its private- sector partnerships.
“I believe that we’re going to have national and international researchers coming to Wooster and the OARDC to help perform research that’s going to benefit all of us, in the food and health and safety aspects,” he said.
Click here for our first report, filed the night of the storm, Sept. 16, 2010.