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Rising from the rubble: UK Research and Education Center at Princeton reveals remarkable post-tornado transformation

Rising from the rubble: UK Research and Education Center at Princeton reveals remarkable post-tornado transformation

Rising from the rubble: UK Research and Education Center at Princeton reveals remarkable post-tornado transformation

Amidst the challenges and reconstruction, the Research and Education Center at Princeton has persevered.

Princeton, Ky.—

As the two-year anniversary of the devastating tornado that hit the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center at Princeton (UKREC) approaches, the center’s resilient spirit and progress are unmistakable.  

Amidst the challenges and reconstruction, the center has persevered and made significant strides with a roadmap toward a more efficient and modern future. 

"The tornado was a moment that changed everything for us," said Carrie Knott, UKREC director and extension professor. "The devastation was overwhelming – buildings flattened, research disrupted and years of progress seemingly wiped out instantly." 

The 2021 tornado wreaked havoc on the center, significantly impacting its infrastructure. Approximately 39 structures, including the main research building, were destroyed or severely damaged.  

Located in Princeton, Kentucky, the UKREC spans nearly 1600 acres and is a hub for diverse agricultural research and extension. It includes row crops such as tobacco, corn, wheat, soybeans, specialty crops like hemp and grain sorghum, woodlands, pastures and hayfields. The center is also home to a beef cattle unit and conducts research in horticulture, focusing on fruits and vegetables. A crucial component is its soil testing laboratory, which is now nearing operational status. 

Princeton center after tornado.
Photo by Matt Barton.

The center has focused on not just rebuilding but also improving its facilities. The renovations include consolidating multiple older structures into a single, more efficient field processing building. A new graduate student dormitory-style house aims to attract top-tier students by offering comfortable, single-occupancy bedrooms with semi-private bathrooms.  

UKREC’s field processing building, another significant addition, will enhance efficiency by housing all necessary equipment for processing plant and soil samples under one roof. Despite the extensive damage, according to Knott, the center has managed to maintain about 85% to 90% of its typical research output. 

The community's response to the disaster has been equally remarkable.  

“The UK Research and Education Center at Princeton always has and always will focus on important questions for our people across Kentucky,” said Chad Lee, Grain and Forage Center of Excellence (GFCE) director and UK Department of Plant and Soil Science professor. “I continue to be amazed at how much work is being accomplished by faculty, staff and students at Princeton. Their commitment to excellence is inspiring.” 

As the UKREC approaches completion of 10 out of the planned 20 new structures, including equipment storage sheds along with a tobacco greenhouse and barns, there is a palpable sense of achievement and optimism. The remaining projects, such as the GFCE building and the mechanic shop, are on track. The GFCE building is slated for completion by 2025 and the mechanic’s shop in 2024. 

"Our journey over the past two years is a testament to perseverance,” Knott said. “Each new structure and improvement at UKREC represents a step towards a future serving our community and the agricultural sector more effectively for the next 100 years.” 

Resources to support those impacted by the tornado and those wishing to provide aid can be found at 

Writer: Jordan Strickler,  

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The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.   

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