Arboretum plans for another 20 years

Published 11:03 pm Saturday, November 11, 2006

For the past 20 years and counting, Crosby Arboretum has provided a place for the young and old to enjoy nature as it naturally is in South Mississippi. Now plans are underway to provide a new center to educate and welcome visitors.

Saturday morning the arboretum held its 20-year celebration with speeches from those who were, and will be, directly involved in the creation and future development of the arboretum, such as Lynn Crosby Gammill, daughter of L.O. Crosby Jr. in whose memory the arboretum was built; Edward Blake, Jr., who helped design the arboretum; Michelle Heidleberg, who started the plant sales at the arboretum; Tom Howorth, who is the architect for the new education and welcome center, and former arboretum curator Bob Brzuszek.

The land on which Crosby Arboretum was built was once a strawberry farm after all the virgin forest had been cut down when Picayune was a sawmill town, Gammill said. In 1969, Hurricane Camille blew through, and most recently Hurricane Katrina savaged the area.

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“As you can see, this site has been brought to its knees many times and it keeps getting back up,” Gammill said.

The idea to build the arboretum came after Gammill’s father died in 1978 but great deal planning and observation of how other arboretums operate came before Crosby Arboretum was built in the mid-1980s, she said.

Construction of the Arboretum took place between 1984 and 1986, Blake said.

After much deliberation, the original board members selected well-known architect Fay Jones of Arkansas to design the Pinecote Pavilion, an internationally recognized piece of architectural art. The sky light in the center was an idea Jones had to help save the structure from hurricanes. In the event of a monster storm, the glass would shatter saving the rest of the structure, Blake said. However, Hurricane Katrina did not break even one piece of the glass.

“This man was a genius,” Blake said about Fay’s design and thought processes to incorporate it in its natural surroundings. “It’s rare that you find all these traits all wrapped up in one human being.”

Howorth speculates that the skylight also served to make the pavilion more like the forest and less like a building. These are the ideas he hopes to incorporate into his addition to the arboretum, the Education and Welcome Center.

Howorth said the new building initially was expected to cost about $1 million, but since Katrina, that cost has risen to just below $2 million. The estimated 7,500 square feet of space in the education center will be designed to provide a bevy of functions from classes to social gatherings in the 100-person conference room, to displays and shows in the center of the cross-like building. While the new center will be enclosed and air conditioned, unlike the pavilion, Howorth hopes to incorporate the transitional function into the new center that the pavilion uses.

All the rooms in the center will be designed to focus on the outside of the building, instead of its interior, Howorth said.

First, funds need to be secured before construction of the new center can begin, said Melinda Lyman, senior curator and on-site director. She said that the arboretum has applied for three grants and the outcome of those grants will determine how the arboretum board will go about raising the remaining money.

Once all the funds are secured, Howorth estimates the center would take about 10 months to build.