Wow. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one bummed about the trees. This just in from the desk of the chancellor:

Dear Campus Community Members,

When I first set foot on the IUS campus in the spring of 2002, I was impressed by the beautiful environment.  Because of the trees along the railroad track at the rear of campus, I was mostly unaware of the industrial park.  Late autumn, however, presented a quite different view.  As a result, I have been consulting with the IU Architects Office for the past four years about planting a screen of evergreen trees along the back side of campus to block the view of the industrial park year round.  The advent of our student housing, however, modified how this tree planting could progress.

Even though I knew we would have to remove some trees in order to build our housing, like others on campus, I was shocked to see our “backyard” devoid of foliage and the unattractive view of the industrial park.  Nevertheless, there were multiple reasons why the trees had to be removed.  Let me explain. First, the IUS campus has serious soil issues, as is evidenced by the many building problems we have encountered over the years, like the south wall of the Activities Building and the tennis courts.  In order for us to build student housing, much work has to be done on the sub-grade below where the building slabs will be.  This situation has been complicated by the existence of our lake.  Three years ago an environmental inspection by the state determined that the dam needed reinforcement, especially because large trees had grown up in or near the dam wall.  If a storm were to topple these and dislodge their rootballs, then the dam would be in danger of failure.  Because the University/campus had no R & R money, we were unable to repair the dam at the time of the environmental inspection.  This year we do have R & R money from the state to use for repairs, and, in fact, these repairs are necessary in order for us to build student housing.

The new buildings to be constructed downstream from the dam have to be raised so that we can create a stable foundation structurally and so that they do not appear to be built in a “hole” aesthetically.  Unfortunately, when the existing grade is changed, this creates fatal conditions for existing trees.  Even if we had saved the trees that were not actually under the footprints of buildings, they would have died from being smothered by the grading around the buildings.

Could we have saved trees on the very perimeter of the grading by providing tree wells?  Apparently not.  First, there were  no trees on the railroad side of the property to save since the railroad had already cleared everything to the edge of the right-of-way, which is quite far from the existing tracks.  Secondly, our sanitary sewer line follows the right-of-way all the way down to the tennis courts area before it cuts back to connect to the existing sewer system.  The architects were able to follow the right-of-way on IUS property behind the trees that still stand because there was existing space already cleared between these trees and the railroad right-of-way, but this was not possible immediately south of the lake.  Given the right-of-way issues, the soil conditions necessitating much filling and leveling, and the need to repair the dam, the trees that were removed did indeed have to come down.  While this project did not require a formal environmental impact study, the site was thoroughly studied by the architects and the resulting landscaping and construction plan was carefully reviewed and approved by the IU Architects Office.  The project complies with all applicable codes and regulations regarding student, faculty, and staff safety and water and air quality.  In all of our dealings with the Architects Office at IU, we have been  consistently impressed by their principle of never cutting down trees unless absolutely necessary to do so.  In fact, our local architects, Luckett and Farley, have assured me that they actually did not take the clearing as far as was originally indicated in order to preserve more trees.

At this point, 99% of the trees that needed to be removed have been taken down.  In order to repair the dam, a few more trees in the southwest corner of the dam will need to be removed in order to restore the integrity of the dam structure.  Please note that in order to repair the dam, the water level will have to be dropped 3 to 5 feet, and this will probably present us with yet another disturbing view for a short period of time.  The architects will be asking the Indiana Fish and Game Division to review the lake situation and advise  us as to how to protect the fish in the lake while repairs are being made.

As unpleasant as the construction site currently looks, the entire area will be greatly improved in the course of the project.  The landscaping plan calls for the replanting of approximately 200 trees, which will present a year-round screening of the industrial park.  In addition, for the safety of our students, a fence will be constructed to block access to the railroad tracks.

Once the fall semester begins, I have asked our architects to schedule a special information session for our campus community so that they can explain the project in depth and answer specific questions.  Additionally, we are developing an ongoing process to provide regular communications to the campus regarding the status of our student housing project.  In the meantime, I ask for your patience as some of the uglier aspects of the construction process take place.  I encourage you to stop by my office to discuss any concerns or questions you may have, or drop me an email.  I’ll be happy to try to provide you with the best information I can and to listen carefully to your concerns regarding the development of our student housing.  I hope the rest of your summer is refreshing as we look forward to what undoubtedly will be an exciting new school year.

It’s no Puget Sound memo, but interesting to receive nonetheless.