The removal of the 36 trees in the footprint for a new building in the South Neighborhood Project started early Friday, Nov. 23.
Rob Wallace, irrigation lead at Western Michigan University Landscape Services and one of the first to oppose tree removal, said he was told earlier in the week the trees would likely be coming down the weekend of Thanksgiving break. He assumes the reason is the lack of activity on campus while students, staff and faculty are at home for the holiday.
“It’s just kind of a shame,” Wallace said. “It’s a shame we’re performing construction to improve the University’s image and it’s at the cost of natural features that I think promote a positive image of the campus. There certainly is going to be a loss that I think wasn’t recognized and there wasn’t a better effort to preserve elements of the positive image that we already had.”
Dr. Todd Barkman, a WMU botany professor and Tree Campus USA committee member, was not aware that construction would start this soon.
“I was not given any specific information about when tree removal was going to occur,” Barkman said in an email. “I was told by email that although the fences would go up Nov. 19 that ‘not much would happen’ until after Jan. 1, 2019. I was also not given any information about which specific trees would be removed. At the Nov. 20 Campus Planning and Finance Council meeting, I was told that the input of my council would not be valuable as to the specific placement of the building footprint and therefore (it) was not asked for. That made it impossible for me or anyone else on the council to provide detailed input.”
Barkman felt the start of tree removals was rushed and questioned whether or not this is how the University should move forward with a project “that will enhance campus and make us a school of choice.”
“While I am positive about the project moving forward, I find that the lack of compromise and rebuke of input offered by students, faculty and staff (is) reprehensible,” Barkman said. “To move forward so quickly with tree removal seems like an attempt to avoid any conflict or negative attention because, essentially, no students, staff or faculty would be on campus.”
University Spokeswoman Paula Davis said the tree removal was a continuation of the site preparation that started Monday. Earlier this week, 12 trees were relocated and now the project continues with the tree removals.
“As much as possible, we try to schedule work when it isn’t going to get in the way of campus activity,” Davis said. “Work continued today and will continue here forward until the project is done.”
Davis is uncertain what will happen to the wood from the trees being removed, but said the final landscaping plans are a work in progress.
Moving forward, Wallace wants the decisions made regarding development to be more of a collaboration with the “professionals hired to make the decisions and the students who the campus is there for.”
“I think we’ll take a look at some of the problems and issues that led to all this — the amount of input that professionals and students are allowed to have with administration (regarding campus development),” Wallace said. “We still think we have a right to be more involved.”