Historic Ross tree moved after months of planning

By Maya Kalman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 26, 2014

This past weekend, a large bur oak tree was relocated as part of the Ross School of Business expansion project, a move that cost $400,000. The tree was moved to make way for the new Jeff T. Blau Hall, which is scheduled for completion in Summer 2016.

The tree was originally located in the courtyard on the north side of the Ross building, was moved approximately 500 feet. The new location is in front of Ross on a lawn facing Tappan Street. This location was chosen because it is the only space near the school that, at approximately 47 square feet, is large enough to fit the tree and its root ball.

Environmental Design, Inc., a Texas-based company, conducted the move. Paul Cox, regional vice president of Environmental Design, said chances for the tree’s survival are good.

“It’s going to outlive all of us,” Cox said.

Estimates for the age of the tree vary. However, historical photos indicate that it is at least 250 years old, Cox said. The exact age of the tree can be tested, but that procedure involves cutting into the tree and could compromise its health.

The tree is estimated to weigh about 675,000 pounds and is about 65 feet tall. Cox said the bur oak was the biggest he had ever seen.

With the relocation's price tag set at $400,000, some members of the University have called the move into question. The move was included in the overall cost of the business school renovation.

“It’s kind of a tough swallow that it’s costing $400,000,” said Engineering alum Jim Sterken. “But it’s preserving history. The tree was probably here before campus was, so I hope it goes well.”

“I’m pissed,” said Engineering junior Max Boykin. “It costs so much money for moving a tree that could die in a year or two.”

He added that the money could be better spent on other resources, research or financial aid for students who need it.

However, University Spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he believes the cost is justified.

“The expansion of the Ross School of Business is really important for us to be able to serve the future needs of our students,” Fitzgerald said. “But at the same time, I think we wanted to recognize the historic significance of the tree.”

For the next three to five years, the tree will be remain on a strict maintenance program which will include close monitoring of pH and moisture levels. In addition, Environmental Design and a University horticulturalist will monitor leaf size and color, as leaf health is indicative of overall tree health.

While the tree was officially moved this weekend, preparations have been ongoing for months, Cox said. The process began with a site visit by Environmental Design officials to evaluate the health of tree and the conditions of the new site.

The crew first arrived this summer to begin the move. The first step of the moving process was determining the size of the root ball; the Ross tree root ball measured about 40 feet in diameter. Next, the crew dug trenches about three and a half feet deep at the diameter of the root ball. This allows the crew to “clean cut” the roots that sprout from the root ball.

“This allows for new roots to grow right off those fresh cuts, so when we come back and move it, you’ve got a tree that’s already regenerating roots before you’ve done anything to it in terms of the actual move,” Cox said.

This step of the process is completed by refilling the trenches.

The crew returned in July to begin the second phase of the move, which includes building a platform underneath the tree using pipes. The pipes are pushed beneath the tree, creating a solid grid that later allowed for lifting.

The final phase of the project is the actual relocation of the tree. The more time that passes after inserting the pipes and before starting the final phase, the more likely the tree move will be successful, Cox said.

This phase began 10 days ago, when the crew arrived and dug underneath the pipe grid.

The move was scheduled for noon, yet delays resulted in the move occurring at 3 p.m. A root mass slowed down the raising of the tree, a complication that Cox characterized as routine and expected.

“Whenever we move big trees, there’s always something that slows you down. It’s not an exact science,” Cox said.

The tree was moved using a large transporter, which was fed under the pipe platform while a set of inflated air bladders raised the tree momentarily. The process Sunday, the process that lowered the tree into its new location was complicated by the bursting of one of the air bladders. No one was hurt and the tree is secure, and Environmental Design is investigating the incident further.

The transporters move slower than one mile per hour and were originally designed to carry large industrial materials, Cox said. The transporters have 96 independently moving wheels, allowing them to turn 90 degrees on the spot.

In addition, these types of transporters are ideal for tree relocation due to their low center of gravity and large weight. Each transporter weighs about 90,000 pounds, bringing the total weight of the package to nearly 900,000 pounds as it rolls, Cox said.

However, the tree must be extremely secure on the transporters and cannot be moved in wind conditions higher than 25 mph. The crew measured wind speeds on site approximately every 15 minutes during the relocation.