The ivy-covered tulip tree that shaded the area between Webster Hall and Maria Hall was removed June 8 because of safety concerns. The tree was planted more than 60 years ago. It was deemed a hazard to public safety by a Webster Groves-hired arborist during an inspection earlier this month, Webster University Vice President and CFO Greg Gunderson said.
Maria Hall, Webster Hall and the Winfred Moore Auditorium almost entirely surrounded the tulip tree and protected it from harsh winds. As the tree grew, though, the surrounding buildings constricted its root system.
“What sheltered (the tree) in its youth has limited it now in its late maturity,” Gunderson said in a June 7 interview.
Limited rainfall and compacted dirt from foot traffic also hindered the tree’s growth.
A university-hired arborist inspected the tree last year and determined it was in distress. The most recent inspection this month by a city-hired arborist found the tree was dead, Gunderson said. Gunderson also said in the event of high winds or storms, the tree’s collapse could have threatened public safety.
The inspection was part of the process of acquiring a landscape permit for the new ADA-approved elevator in construction behind Webster Hall. Regardless of construction, though, Gunderson said the tree would have had to have been removed.
“Because of the location of the tree, it presents unique issues for how we do construction,” Gunderson said. Gunderson said construction will not affect the fall 2012 semester.
Although the historic tree was removed, faculty members are looking for ways to use what’s left of the tree on campus.
“We’re looking for a way to make lemonade out of a lemon, because nobody wanted to take the tree down,” Gunderson said. “That tree has been such an important part of Webster’s life. We’re trying to think of ways that (the tree) can still be honored and retained to be part of the fabric for the future.”
Six-foot trunk sections of the tree were saved for potential sculptures and public art. One of those sections currently sits in the back lot of the Visual Arts Building. Smaller pieces of the tree were saved to make planks that can be used for anything from benches to pens. The wood will need to season — dry out — for two years before being ready to use.
Gunderson hopes the seasoned wood will be ready to present as new pieces of art for Webster’s 100th anniversary in the 2014-15 academic year. Gunderson said students will have the opportunity to be involved in the future of the wood, and can expect a dialogue on the outcomes in the fall.
“Even though we’re a little sad,” Gunderson said, “I think we’re feeling some pride in that there are ways we can harvest this. It’s not like it’s going to be turned into a big pile of sawdust. It’s going to be salvaged and we’re going to be able to keep it with us. I draw some comfort in that.”
After the construction of the elevator, Gunderson said the area between Webster Hall and Maria Hall will be cleaned up to act as an area for students, similar to the Quad.
“I think, as a result of this, you’re going to find that that space— once we put that elevator in and clean up the space — is going to be a really nice spot,” Gunderson said. “Right now, it’s not very attractive. The landscaping is going to brighten that area significantly.”