Regina P. Bracy, Merrill, Thomas A., Morgan, Johnny W. | 3/21/2007 11:36:03 PM
Officials recently broke ground for a new office building and meeting center that will help the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station implement plans for increasing its focus on urban horticulture and landscape maintenance.
At the March 16 ceremony, officials said the construction of the 3,700-square-foot facility is the first step toward what is expected to be an increasing volume of research and educational programs related to the state’s "green industry."
The new facility will include offices, a resource room and a meeting room capable of seating 100 people and serving as a distance-learning center.
Construction of the facility is being financed from the sale of a portion of the land originally dedicated to the research station. Although the land technically was only leased from Tangipahoa Parish, officials there OK’d the land sale in 2005 to help with improvements at the research station.
"The Tangipahoa Parish Policy Jury leased the 183 acres at the Hammond Research Station to the LSU AgCenter in 1922 at no cost for the purpose of conducting agricultural research benefiting southeast Louisiana," Dr. David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for research, explained.
Through the years, a significant portion of the research conducted at the station focused on Louisiana strawberry and vegetable production, since the berries and vegetables are major crops produced in the area surrounding the station.
In 2003, however, the research focus of the station was updated to include the state’s "green industry" by increasing its focus on research and educational programs in landscape horticulture. That will come in addition to continuing vegetable crop and strawberry research.
Dr. Regina Bracy, LSU AgCenter professor and resident coordinator at the station, said the additions are important.
"Louisiana’s green industry has an economic impact of about $2.2 billion a year and it’s continuing to grow," Bracy said. "The new master plans we came up with for the property at the station in 2004 were designed to help us implement a new focus on those industries.
"It just makes sense. Our research and extension efforts need to keep up with the demand."
The revised focus also made sense to Tangipahoa Parish officials, who agreed to sell a portion of the land and dedicate those proceeds to improvements at the station.
"In 2005, we requested that the parish allow us to sell 47 acres of the property that had been leased to us and to use the funds for making some much needed improvements at the station," Bracy explained, adding, "The acreage had never been used for research and would not be necessary for implementation of the master plan."
Parish officials agreed with the plan in 2005, although parish president Gordon Burgess joked at the groundbreaking ceremony that it might not have been quite as easy a decision these days.
"I’m glad this happened a year ago, because with the value of this property today, I don’t know whether we would have made the deal or not," he said.
LSU AgCenter officials were delighted nonetheless.
"I almost didn’t believe it when it was announced that the parish had agreed with the financing plan," Dr. Bill Richardson, chancellor of the LSU AgCenter, said. "But I’m certainly glad they did. It’s allowing us to do some things we might not have been able to do otherwise."
Of the 47 acres that were authorized to be sold and dedicated to improvements at the station, 27 were sold in 2006. The proceeds from those are being used for the $500,000 cost of the new meeting and office facilities that will be under construction soon.
The other 20-acre parcel is still on the market but may take longer to sell because of its location and the lack of access to it, Bracy said.
Once that parcel is sold, however, officials said it will help to fund additional improvements, including:
–A new multipurpose laboratory facility
–A new water supply system for the station
–A new pond irrigation system
–Expansion of parking areas for public meetings
–Demolition of several of the older buildings on the property
In addition to the groundbreaking, officials also announced other changes that will bolster the landscape and horticulture work at the station.
Bracy said LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings will transfer to the Hammond Research Station effective July 1.
"Allen will maintain his statewide appointment and will join the team of AgCenter horticulturists working in the recently initiated landscape horticulture research and extension program effort at the Hammond Station," she said. "This transfer continues the efforts of the AgCenter to move specialists closer to the clientele they serve."
Other recent changes at the station included moving the LSU AgCenter’s Southeast Regional Office to the station in 2003.
For additional information about the research and educational programs at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station or the work being conducted through research stations and extension offices across the state, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.