May 20, 2009

Preliminary storm damage estimate is $5 million

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Preliminary estimates of the destruction and damage caused by the May 8 storm total $5 million on the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus.

The University is largely insured against the building property losses. University officials are in the early stages of working with commercial insurance carriers and adjusters.

Of the $5 million estimate, $1 million is the anticipated cost of debris cleanup. In addition, many buildings on campus sustained roof damage; in some buildings there was ceiling tile and other water damage, gutters torn off and other forms of damage. The storm blew out nearly 100 windows in residence halls.

“This storm has posed unique challenges for us; it is not like anything we’ve had to deal with before,” Philip S. Gatton, director of Plant and Service Operations, said. “It is taxing our resources but also causing us to be creative. Traditional cleaning methods don’t work.”

Gatton said the grounds cleanup is a three-phase process. The focus of the first phase was ensuring safety on the campus and mitigating any emergencies or hazards. The second phase involves cleaning up the central core of the campus and continuing to clear away debris. The focus of the third phase will be on cleaning up around campus lake, Thompson Woods and outlying areas of the campus.

The walking path around campus lake and Thompson Woods remain closed.

Gatton estimates that the storm destroyed 1,000 trees in the campus lake and Thompson Woods areas, and hundreds more across the rest of campus.

“The trees that were in good shape, that had a lot of foliage, got hit hard,” Gatton said. “A lot of our best trees were knocked over.”

Grounds crews continue to move debris to the parking lot near the law school and one on the east side of campus, in some cases utilizing equipment specifically designed for that kind of work. Once that work is complete, the University will bring in a large grinder to dispose of trees and limbs.

Some of the cleanup effort involves “things that are very risky for us to do, such as dealing with trees that fell on trees, so we will bring in outside expertise,” he said.

He also expects two arborists from a Chicago firm -- both of whom are SIUC graduates -- to be on campus this week to assess the damage to trees.

“Many are damaged but still standing, and we don’t want to remove them if they still are viable,” Gatton said. “That assessment will hopefully help to minimize the number we have to cut down.”

He expects a report from the arborists about two weeks after they survey the campus.

The recovery and cleanup effort affects Plant and Service Operations’ abilities to handle normal summer work, such as asbestos removal and mowing.

“Even the mowing, you can’t imagine having to mow this campus, as big as it is, now with all the limbs and obstacles,” Gatton said. “There will have to be a lot more done by hand. It will be the end of summer before we see enough cleaned up to be back to normal operations.”

While he believes the campus is “starting to look a lot better,” Gatton also said, “I hope we don’t get judged two months from now that we haven’t gone far enough. The work is very time consuming, and we have to document all costs incurred.”

Once initial damage assessments are complete, the University and the counties affected by the storm will submit them to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which in turn will provide them to Gov. Pat Quinn. He then will decide whether to submit the assessments to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. President Barack Obama will have to declare the area a federal disaster area before any federal assistance would become available.

Examples of the damage estimates on campus include:

• McAndrew Stadium, damage to press box, scoreboard, light poles, fencing, $115,000.

• Agriculture Building, roof, ceiling tile, water damage, $300,000.

• Thompson Point, 11 buildings with various damage, total of $170,000.

• Quigley Hall, tree on the building, fencing, roof damage, play equipment, ceiling tiles, $100,000.

• East campus chiller building, transformer, $50,000.

• Grinnell Hall, roof damage, $100,000.

In addition to damage at the Agriculture Building, losses at University Farms included the destruction of the feed mill, which provided feed for the dairy, beef, swine and horse centers.

“That is a huge loss to us,” Agricultural Sciences Dean Gary Minish said. “We have to buy commercial feed because we have no way of processing or storing feed now.”

He added that “commercial feed is a heck of a lot higher in price,” estimating that it is costing as much as 25 to 50 percent more to feed all the animals. He emphasized that all of the animals are indeed being fed.

While still in the cleanup mode, Minish said college officials are looking at what can be salvaged and repaired from the feed mill, which he described as “the hub of the livestock centers.” He estimates it would cost $200,000 to $300,000 to replace it, though no decisions have been reached on a long-term solution. One possibility under consideration is using more portable feed processing at the different centers.

“At some point we’ll have to get back into processing the feeds we produce,” he said. “This also impacts our research, because that was where a lot of the diets for the animals were formulated. We’ll stay in business. Giving up the farms and livestock units would be a severe detriment to our teaching and research programs.”