COLUMBIA, Mo. – Ask any alumni from the University of Missouri-Columbia what the most iconic place on campus is, and the Francis Quadrangle would dominate the responses.
Many of the college's oldest buildings border the quad's historic columns — all that remains of Academic Hall which was destroyed by fire in 1892. They stand tall on lush turf and are surrounded by colorful flowerbeds. It's also a popular location to unwind and take in all the beauty of the 183-year-old campus.
Another part of that rich history is 15 of the remaining original 26 pin oaks framing the quad. They were planted as saplings and are now dying. Some have succumbed to diseases common in pin oaks. For others, their lifespan was somewhat shortened by damage caused when an irrigation system was installed in the 1990s, the university said.
"For more than 70 years the pin oak trees have stood guard and provided a beautiful backdrop for the columns and historic buildings here," said Michael Graves, associate vice chancellor for facilities. "However, these noble trees have reached the end of their natural lifespan and are a potential safety hazard to pedestrians and buildings. Replacing them is essential to the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors."
Campus officials said the only truly long-term fix was to replace the pin oaks with something better adapted to the current conditions of the quad. New Legacy Oaks of the Francis Quadrangle will now be planted.
They were donated by College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources alumni Wayne Lovelace and his daughter Kim Lovelace-Hainsfurther in 2019 and grown at MU’s South Farm. The white oak species will live for more than 200 years and have the longest lifespan of the oaks.
It took four years with the help of the Mizzou Botanic Garden, faculty and staff experts, and arborists from outside the university to develop a plan to replace the aging trees to maintain the quad's historic look.
"Universities are a dynamic place, and their grounds and facilities are always changing," said Bill Ruppert, Mizzou Botanic Garden board member and former Mizzou employee. "But the quad is the one place on campus I can come back to and have it feel the same as it was when I was on campus all those years ago. The Legacy Oaks project is going to ensure students 200 years from now have that same experience."
The remaining pin oaks will be removed between May 18 and June 3. Once removed, the university said they will determine if any part is salvageable and then figure out what can be done with the wood.
The new white oaks will be planted over the summer. All the trees will be planted at the same time, the university said, so they grow at relatively the same rate.
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