Emory Report

August 30 , 1999

 Volume 52, No. 2

Construction vs. trees: a difficult debate for Emory campus

In the last 30 years the city of Atlanta has prospered perhaps more than any other city in the United States. Its population--now almost 4 million in the metro area--has more than doubled, and Atlanta's economic growth steadily outpaces the rest of the nation; in the same period of time, Atlanta has lost nearly a half-million acres of forest. This is no coincidence.

Emory has likewise experienced remarkable prosperity and has suffered the same growing pains. Every construction project that breaks ground brings with it new opportunities to enhance Emory's reputation, but those projects also bring legitimate concerns about how the University is slowly using up the one resource that is most difficult to replenish: its environment, specifically its land and trees.

"Emory has found itself in the envious yet difficult position of having an academic citizenry devoted to the expansion of our material assets and having the means to support that expansion-but we live within an island of no more than 600 acres," said President Bill Chace. "We must do everything to maintain a good balance between, on the one hand, respect for the wooded portion of the campus and for reforestation and, on the other, for the ambitiousness of many people on the campus to grow our research and teaching capabilities."

Just because some trees must come down does not mean they all come down, or that they cannot go back up. For example, three shumard oaks were moved last spring from the site of the Whitehead Research Building to a grassy knoll next to the Goizueta Business School. The three oaks are now doing well after surviving the trauma of relocation. "We haven't really publicized moving those trees because we wanted to see if they could last over the summer," said Hector Morales, capital program manager for Facilities Management.

Morales and his boss, Senior Associate Vice President and Facilities Management Director Bob Hascall, said campus planners are making every effort to spare as many trees as possible during this intense period of capital construction. "It's the responsibility of all of us in Facilities Management to pay attention to the environmental concerns everyone's expressed and to try to honor them as much as we can," Hascall said.

Even though honoring those concerns has sometimes cost no small amount of money. It's difficult to quantify exactly how much expense goes specifically to "saving trees," but Morales said additional design work to that end-and increased construction costs from the modified plans-raised the budget for the University Apartments project significantly.

Both during and following the campus debate last spring over the University Apartments project, Facilities Management worked with campus groups to inform them and solicit opinions. The University Senate's Committee on the Environment (COE) made an official recommendation to try other solutions before finalizing plans for the shuttle road; that recommendation was not adopted, but COE has been involved with the construction work, said committee member and Oxford biology professor Eloise Carter. It was difficult to have the COE recommendation rejected one day and then go out the next to advise on the very project the recommendation sought to prevent or postpone, but to everyone's credit, that's exactly what happened.

"The way in which [Facilities Managment] has written the contracts and worked with the contractors to protect the area outside the construction zone is very important," Carter said, adding that she stands behind the COE recommendation.

Tom Tarantino and Reggie Askew, University Apartments project managers for Emory and Turner Construction, respectively, estimated that close to $100,000 has been spent to save trees at the site. The company hired an arborist, Arborguard Tree Specialists, to do work such as trimming branches from trees to be felled so they wouldn't damage adjacent trees. Written into Turner's contract is a clause: if the company kills any protected tree, it must pay a penalty of $1,000 per caliper inch of the tree. And Askew said, once the property was cleared and they got a better look at the topography, the team has been able to save about a dozen specimen trees originally earmarked for removal, mostly at the project's periphery.

Still, random trees are not the same as forests. "Once destroyed, for all practicality greenspace cannot be brought back with such a misnomer as 'reforestation,'" said COE chair Bill Size. "What needs to be done with Emory's remaining greenspace is to put a value on this land. Not necessarily a dollar value, but a quality-of-life value for the Emory community, now and in the future."

Unfortunately, no trees were salvageable at the new nursing school site at the corner of Clifton Road and Michael Street; all the property's trees were in the footprint of the building. But when construction is complete, Facilites Management will plant nine hollys and 37 other trees-oaks, dogwoods, japanese and red sunset maples-to replace those lost, said project manager Steve Lange.

In fact, all of the recent construction has been followed by landscaping and native tree planting, mostly "woody ornamental" species such as those listed above. But even though these trees will look fine, they still don't replace the native species that have been lost.

Enter the Friends of Emory Forest Endowment Fund, a new organization spearheaded by Jimmy Powell, superintendent of roads and grounds, and English Senior Lecturer JoAn Chace. Modeled after Trees Atlanta, the group hopes to build an endowment large enough to begin reestablishing the canopy of native hardwoods on campus, trees like white oak, hickory, tulip poplar and loblolly pine. Valley Crest Landscape, the firm contracted for all of Emory's Open Space projects, recently gave Friends of Emory Forest its first donation of $2,500.

"One thing we're hoping is, with the adoption of the Campus Master Plan, we can identify places to plant trees that would not be in harm's way 50 years from now," Powell said.

Chace said she's felt an organization like this has been needed ever since Hurricane Opal destroyed many of Lullwater's trees in 1995. She made no secret last spring that she supported the COE recommendation, but she acknowledged that with Emory growing like it is, some things are inevitable. "It's bad to lose any trees, but if we must, we must lose them thoughtfully and work vigorously to replace them," she said.

--Michael Terrazas

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