Temple Ambler Campus to reopen after damage from tornado

The tornado severely damaged campus property while stranding students and faculty overnight.

A gazebo from Temple Ambler’s arboretum is destroyed after a tornado that occurred on Sept. 1. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

A tornado hit Temple University’s Ambler campus at 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 1, rendering serious damages to campus facilities and nature reserves while also stranding 27 students and faculty overnight on campus property. Ambler plans to resume all in-person classes on Wednesday. 

“All but two of our 18 buildings got seriously damaged either by water, trees or wind,” said Vicki McGarvey, director of Temple Ambler Campus. “We are still assessing for sure, but I would guess we have tens of millions of dollars in damages.” 

Temple administration plans to use only two of the buildings on campus, the Ambler Learning Center and Dixon Hall, for their return to in-person instruction. Classroom locations and sizes have not been changed but many administrative and faculty offices have been temporarily relocated to other buildings, McGarvey said. 

The damage of the tornado is still being assessed, but renovations are expected to continue until the end of the school year, McGarvey said.

Ambler’s West Hall, the Hilda Justice Building, the Library Building and Bright Hall all sustained severe roof and water damages. Other buildings like the Ambler Learning Center and Dixon Hall suffered less damage and are able to be used as classrooms and offices starting on Sept. 15, McGarvey said. 

Twenty-seven people, including state park ranger cadets and Ambler staff and students, spent the night in Ambler’s West Hall, which has dorm rooms in addition to offices, the night of the tornado, McGarvey said.

No one was injured, said Stephen Orbanek, a spokesperson for Temple. 

“They sheltered in the hallway of the first floor of West Hall during the actual tornado, they were living there so they had food, water and mattresses to sleep on,” McGarvey said. 

After the tornado, the cadets were able to use their flashlights to direct traffic and guide students to West Hall, said James Wilmore, a bus driver taking Temple students to Ambler the night of the tornado. 

“Driving back I was flabbergasted by the levels of water that were just flowing on the streets,”  Wilmore said. “There were trees down and lines down, the cadets were great, they used their flashlights to guide us to safety through the trees because the power was down.”

The tornado produced winds between 111 and 135 miles per hour, and entered the campus from the south. It “flattened and destroyed” the Temple Forest Observatory before heading north to damage the campus facilities, said Amy Freestone, associate professor of biology at Ambler. 

The forest observatory allowed students to get a hands-on approach in monitoring plant and animal life, Freestone said. The tornado leveled the observatory and destroyed a majority of the vegetation and killed some wildlife, Freestone said. 

“You can’t quantify the damage to the land, some of the trees that were damaged were the only ones that we had,” McGarvey said. “Buildings are covered by insurance, but nature takes years to recover.” 

Ambler’s Horticulture staff will adjust its teaching and plan for the observatory and treat it as a “disturbance lab” for students and researchers to observe how forest’s recover to natural disasters, Freestone said.

“We have had to adjust our outlook with this plot, we have really, really, excellent before-data and now since the tornado hit we will have to monitor how forest’s recover and observe things like carbon levels,” Freestone said. 

The campus library and archives received substantial water damage from the tornado, but campus librarians were able to recover most of the books and archives on Sept. 2, the day after the tornado, McGarvey said.

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