Students hope to save magnolias
Petition seeks to prevent Board of Visitors’ plan to remove trees surrounding Rotunda
Students began circulating a petition yesterday in an attempt to stop the University from cutting down the magnolia trees surrounding the Rotunda. The decision to remove the trees was approved by the Board of Visitors Nov. 10.
University Architect David Neuman said in an email that the magnolia trees will be cut down during Winter Break to build new scaffolding for the 2012 Rotunda repairs.
The magnolia trees south of the Rotunda pose a risk to the UNESCO World Heritage site, since branches may fall and moisture may accumulate, Neuman said.
"These aren't just trees," third-year Engineering student Yatzek Krzepicki, who organized the petition, said in an email. "Over the years, they have become as much a part of the Rotunda as the bricks that make up its walls. The notion that you can tear them down to renovate the Rotunda is inherently contradictory."
Fourth-year College student Matt Sutton created a Facebook page in support of the petition at noon yesterday after discussing the effects of the Rotunda renovation with some of his classmates.
"Yes, [the magnolia trees are] not technically Jeffersonian, but [they have] been around for a hundred years so it's a pretty big tradition," Sutton said.
At press time, more than 2,200 University students and community members had joined Sutton in signing the petition opposing the destruction of the trees.
"In the last 100 years [the trees] have been a part of the icon of the Rotunda ... a frame for arguably the most beautiful building on Grounds," fourth-year College student Shannon Ellis said. "It's a huge thing being done for a small gain in financial expediency ... if you add it all up, the value that [the trees] represent, it is much greater than the dollar value [the University] is saving."
Ellis added that students have not ruled out more drastic - but non-violent - protests, which would occur during Winter Break.
"Some students have been talking about holding a physical protest in front of the trees, and there are plans to chalk the sidewalks to raise awareness," she said. "I would definitely consider changing my travel plans to be here to protest."
Sutton said this kind of physical protest would be detrimental.
"U.Va. is responding to a problem and trying to fix it," he said. "Responding in such an aggressive and emotional manner is inappropriate. Sitting down and having a discussion is much more constructive."
Travis Dennis, a fourth-year College student who signed the petition, agreed that students need to work with University administrators to find the best possible solution, but added that the University's plans need to be more transparent.
"I'm sure repairs are necessary," he said in an email. "However, the guiding philosophy behind certain choices has not been clearly stated, and it seems much of the UVA family would find it disagreeable if it were made plain."
The petition offers an opportunity for University students and community members to comment about the Rotunda renovations. Sutton hopes to use these comments to effect change, as he plans to approach University administrators next week with the completed petition, or a sample of student comments.
Going forward, "I want to get some constructive alternate solutions to propose," he said. "It's very easy to complain about something, it's very different to offer a good solution to it."
Krzepicki said he and his co-organizers also plan to present the petition to the Office of the Architect and ask that the office hold a public forum where students can ask questions and provide feedback.
This story was updated Thursday at 7 p.m.