During the past two weeks, UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie has held meetings with students in order to clarify the situation that threatens six live oak trees on UL’s campus, all of which have been marked with red ribbons by students protesting their destruction.
“Basically, the president was appeasing his constituents in sequential order as they went to him,” says Adam Constantin, a renewable resources student and member of the Society for Peace, Environment, Action and Knowledge. “First, the band went to him to save the practice field in the very early stages, so that was saved. More recently, the architecture department asked to have the buildings saved that have significance to them, so that happened. Our main problem is that there was no voice speaking for the oaks in question.”
Constantin says he and other concerned students are working with the administration to organize a committee that would be informed and included in planning on projects that threaten the university’s trees, especially larger, native varieties. The planned destruction of the trees
was first reported in The Independent Weekly
“I am completely encouraged for the future of the university as far as future problems that may arise, because we understand what we have to do in the future,” says Constantin. Plans were, for the most part, solidified before the community could object, and Constantin says the committee will allow for a voice to speak for the trees earlier next time.
Savoie told students that he still wants to save what trees he can, specifically the live oak on McKinley Street and the oak on Taft Street in the Denbo/Bancroft parking lot. However, students question whether all of his proposals are viable.
“He said he’s trying to move those trees,” says Constantin. “Personally, I’ve never heard of moving trees that size, but he said money wasn’t an issue and that if those trees could be saved they would. I honestly have faith in him, but not blind faith.”
“He explained that he is trying even harder now to either save or move two of them, which we’re hearing from experts is a shaky concept, moving trees that big,” says Felicita “Flitzy” Wilhelm, also a renewable resources student. “I mean from what we’re hearing, it’s possible, but no matter how much money you spend, there’s still chance that they’re not going to live.”
The other option the president told students he would propose to architects would be to push the buildings closer together so that they would avoid the oaks.
“Oh, it is very viable. It is absolutely viable,” says primary designer Steve Oubre of Architects Southwest. “Each of these things have to be tested against a lot of things. One solution was to turn a building to create a leg on it to clear the trees. Well, what happens when you do that is you [infringe] on another building, and there are code requirements that we have to evaluate. For instance, if it’s closer than 30 feet then we have to build firewalls. What are the costs of the firewalls? Do you get visibility from one room to another room? So all of those things have to be looked at with each concept and scheme, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Oubre also says he’s “extremely optimistic” about the solutions they have looked at in recent meetings. However, the clock is ticking and the team working on these plans must have every decision made within the next week so that construction can begin on housing on Taft Street and Tulane Avenue and on University Avenue to meet the university’s expectations for an August 2011 completion. Until then, the fate of those oak trees is in limbo.
As it wraps up plans for the housing project, Architects Southwest will also receive the contract for UL’s Master Plan, which should take the campus into the next decade. Oubre says three, 10-day charettes are planned, to involve the community at-large in the direction of that plan.