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Seattle University


Saving a Signature Tree

Written by Nicole Vukonich, ’11
October 11, 2010

As the finishing touches were being put on the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, a team of Facilities colleagues were grappling with how to preserve an important tree just outside the building.

The tree at 10th and E. Columbia is one of the European Weeping Beeches installed in 1967 as part of the library’s original Kubota landscaping. Last year, the beech sustained water damage, exposing its roots and endangering its health. 

Members of the Facilities staff—Shannon Britton (grounds manager), George Hooper (fleet mechanic and welder/engineer), Janice Murphy (integrated pest management coordinator and tree consultant), Becki Koukal-Liebe (campus arborist and consultant), along with assistants Will Carnaghi and Derron Yuhara—embarked on a mission to save the well-established and irreplaceable tree.

The team first consulted several prominent architecture firms and contractors from around the region, but they could not find a workable solution. So, Hooper suggested designing something in-house. He and his team adapted and expanded on preliminary drawings and, sure enough, came up with a viable way to brace the tree.

The tree support they engineered is made up of three stainless steel “arms,” which are held in place by 2-3 ft. deep anchors. Welded on top of the “arms” is a modified screw jack from a boat that holds the largest branch in position. To a casual observer strolling past the twin trees, the support system is virtually invisible through the weeping branches. Better yet, the support is entirely maintenance-free and will never need to be painted or replaced.

The installation, which began in early September, took about 30 total hours to complete and cost just under $4,000. Once everything was in place, there was a general feeling of uncertainty over how the support system would perform. The true test came when the temporary straps that had been supporting the tree during the library’s construction were removed.

Since then, the tree has held up well, even in the midst of a couple wind storms. The Facilities group is cautiously optimistic about its long-term stability and jokingly say they are looking forward to their next engineering challenge.