New facility improvement projects continue

Contact: Deanne Puca

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Noticeable progress is continuing on Western Michigan University's Hilltop Village as contractors prepare for demolition of three small residential halls while preserving historic natural features at the site.

Beginning Monday, April 19, construction fences will surround the "Little Three"—Davis, Zimmerman and French residence halls that make up the complex located near the Student Recreation Center. Demolition begins on Davis and Davis Dining the first week of May, with Zimmerman and then French halls following in a staggered schedule, concluding at the end of September.

Each of the three residences halls and Davis Dining were constructed during the mid to late 1950s and served students for more than six decades. The oldest, Davis, opened in 1954, Davis Dining and Zimmerman in 1955 and French in 1960.

Western plans to reimagine the entire southern portion of Main Campus to include new student housing, a new student center and dining facility, retail venues and several other major building efforts.

During the planning, members of a campus tree advisory committee helped identify an at-least-200-year-old historic burr oak that has been around well before Western was founded in 1903 and predates Michigan’s statehood in 1837.

As construction of the multi-year project moves forward, this heritage tree—measuring a diameter of 4 1/2 feet—along with a pin oak from the 1950s have been identified for protection at the site; a few other smaller trees moved to other locations, says project manager Shannon Sauer-Becker.

"We have been very selective with what we are taking out and will be protecting what will remain. There won't be any heavy equipment in the courtyard," she adds. "We highlighted what might be particularly valuable to maintain, and construction will take these natural features into account."

Dr. Todd Barkman, professor of biological sciences and a member of the campus tree advisory committee, says the historic burr oak will be visible in the landscape view near the new student center after being secluded in a courtyard since the 1950s.

"Early input on the project was sought and given, and a great outcome is resulting," Barkman says. "This has been a great example of the University administration embracing the intent of our Tree Campus Higher Education status and how the teaching interests of our campus can be balanced with those of our landscaping professionals and campus planners."

"There is no better historical representation of pre-European settlement in Kalamazoo," he adds, noting the tree is a significant teaching tool on campus. "How often can you go out and show something that was in Michigan before 1812?"

In preparation for the halls' demolition, the University is closing several small parking lots surrounding the residence halls for safety and to make way for equipment. Those closures include lots 19, 86 and 87 off Hayes Drive, and staff parking and loading in lot 15 by Davis Dining, adds Sauer-Becker.

For more information about WMU's major ongoing projects, visit the Capital Projects webpage.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.