On The Chopping Block: Trees to be removed for business building

Spirit Bobcat overlooks the grove of fir trees set for removal this fall. Photo by Emma Nielsen

Construction of the new College of Business building will lead to the removal of a grove of trees north of Wilson Hall, spurring opposition from some students and faculty.

According to E.J. Hook, MSU’s Environmental Service Manager, discussion of the building’s location began in January and was finally decided in April. Though information about the building site and invitations to public forums were published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and the Exponent last spring, some students and faculty today are surprised about the location.

“The biggest push against this has been in the last month,” said Erica McKay, student senator from the College of Business. “It’s hard to measure how many people are really against it.”

Tim LeCain, Associate Professor of History, opposes the removal of 14 century-old fir trees to accommodate the new building. “These living things have been admired and enjoyed by generations of MSU students, staff and faculty, and they deserve our respect,” he said. “They are part of our heritage.”

Dean of Students Matt Caires said that MSU was “between a rock and a hard place to minimize impacts” from the construction of the College of Business building. The final decision on its location took four months to finalize, and another four to generate any sort of significant opposition. “[The student voice] is only coming up at the eleventh hour,” he said.

Nevertheless, Caires said the university will continue listening to student concerns over this issue. “When students speak, things happen,” he said. “We will always listen.”

Student Sen. Michael Townshend explained “you have to find a balance” between the wishes of the students and the university. However, this late in the planning process and with little organized opposition, Townshend is doubtful that plans for the building can be changed.

“Information dissemination takes time,” Townshend continued, “and the spread of knowledge is key to understanding issues.”

The building’s marked site encompasses much of the clearing behind Wilson Hall. Though it requires the removal of 14 fir trees planted in the university’s early years, three others remain east of the proposed building’s perimeter. An additional seven maple and pine trees near the “Spirit” sculpture will be replanted.

However, the four-story building’s proposed location fits within MSU’s Long Range Campus Development Plan, which will establish a vision of symmetry on the walk from Johnstone Complex to Montana Hall. This walk will eventually be lined with greenery on both sides.

The building was also designed to achieve Silver LEED certification, and its carbon footprint will be 123 tons less than equivalent space in the College of Business’s current home, Reid Hall.

The removed trees will all be used in some capacity, Hook said, as “we want to prolong their useful life.” There are discussions in place to donate some of the wood to the architecture program. In addition, a few of the spruce and smaller fir trees will be transplanted to a small “green lung” forest just north of Leon Johnson Hall, according to Caires.

Despite these efforts, LeCain believes the removal of trees should still be taken seriously. “At a university that prides itself on nurturing new ways of understanding the world, their destruction should not pass in silence,” he explained. “Attention must be paid.”

Tree removal is scheduled to begin this fall, with building construction slated for summer of 2013 pending approval by the Montana Legislature.

  • Alex

    Right, the student newsPAPER weeps for trees.