A four-foot-deep moat dug around the large bur oak tree at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business makes the tree look even more massive than it is.

A crew from Environmental Design, a Texas-based company that specializes in transplanting large trees, is on campus this week to prepare the tree for a short move later this fall to a new location along Tappan Street.

The excavation work has allowed the transplant crew to begin the process of driving 44-foot-long pipes beneath the tree. The pipes, nearly 50 of them, will create a platform for the tree and four feet of earth that will be moved with the tree.

Frank Hughes, the transplant project manager, explains it this way: “I’m moving a piece of earth that happens to have a tree in it.”

Workers are preparing this bur oak to be relocated at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

Hughes has been moving trees for 33 years. He says the tree at the Ross School is not the largest his crew has tackled.

The 200-year-old, 65-foot-tall tree stands next to the Computer and Executive Education Building, which will be demolished to make way for an expansion at the Ross School. A new, larger building that will connect to existing buildings will be constructed on that site on the north side of the Ross School complex as part of a $135 million, donor-funded expansion at the school.

Hughes explains that once the pipes are in place and secured on each side of the tree to create a platform, the moat will be filled in to keep the tree healthy until moving day. Once that date – expected to be in late October – is set, workers will return for another week of preparation.

They will again excavate the area around the tree and create a ramp up to the nearby walkway. Then large air bladders will be inserted beneath the tree and inflated to lift the 700,000-pound package of tree and earth. A trailer designed to move extremely heavy objects will move the tree to the front of the Ross building.

There it will face Tappan Street in the same way it faced what was once Monroe Street, explains Larry Bowman, the university’s project manager for the Ross School expansion. He said the university and the transplant firm are taking great care to give the tree the best possible chance for thriving in its new location.

The tree is one of a handful of older bur oaks on Central Campus. Others can be found near the Clements Library, Hatcher Library and Barbour Residence Hall sites. The university also is taking extraordinary measures to protect another large oak in the Ross School courtyard during construction.

University officials estimate the cost of the project to be approximately $300,000-$400,000. The cost for relocating the tree is part of the project costs for the Ross School expansion. 

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