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Oak tree’s strong roots alter construction in Eau Claire

By Jan Basina

Behold the mighty oak.

It’s a tree that brought the planned construction of the $48.8 million University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student union to a temporary standstill and forced the powers-that-be to move the building site.

In 1990, a replacement Council Oak tree was planted near where the original Council Oak (above) stood on the UW-Eau Claire campus until 1987. (UW-Eau Claire Special Collections photo)

In 1990, a replacement Council Oak tree was planted near where the original Council Oak (above) stood on the UW-Eau Claire campus until 1987. (UW-Eau Claire Special Collections photo)

All this because of the Council Oak Tree, which holds historical and cultural significance for the campus, and especially for American Indians. But the tree that grows there now isn’t even the original Council Oak Tree.

It’s a surrogate; a replacement.

Legend has it that there once stood a 300-year-old oak tree on the spot believed to mark the meeting place where the Chippewa and Dakota tribal leaders negotiated treaties during the 1800s. But the mighty tree blew down during a windstorm in 1987. A replacement oak was planted at the site in 1990, and today is just as revered as the original tree.

To accommodate the historic tree, the planned building site had to be shifted a bit to east of its original location.

Now that all technicalities have been satisfied, the State Building Commission has given its final approval to move forward with the project. Bidding is anticipated to take place in October. Construction of the 169,113 square foot, three-story student center would then be scheduled to begin in November. Occupancy of the student center, which will replace the 51-year-old Davies Center, is hoped for by August 2012.

But the student center is only the first of three building projects planned on the university campus.

A new $44.5 million, 154,000-square-foot education building is currently in the design phase. Construction is expected during the 2011-2013 biennium. The building will house sections of the College of Education and Human Sciences, classroom space and language departments, as well as student support services and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

And the design phase of a new $3.2 million, 14,600-square-foot children’s center should be completed this year, with construction expected to be complete in 2011.

With all the planned changes on campus, one thing that is guaranteed to remain a constant — the site of the Historic Council Oak Tree.

Jan Basina is a data reporter at The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at (414) 225-1817.

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