Repurposing an icon

Jul. 11, 2014 @ 05:51 PM

It’s stood on the grounds of E.K. Powe Elementary School for longer than most can even remember. Many don’t even know the exact age of the willow oak tree that resided outside the building.

On average, willow oaks live to be about 85 years old. Those working to preserve the tree, which has started to naturally die off after insect infestations and storm damage, estimate it to be between 100 and 110 years old.

Now Powe families, PTA members, teachers and school officials are working to determine what should happen with the viable wood left over from taking down most of the tree.

Thursday night, those interested in helping preserve the memory of the willow oak and the space around its stump gathered in Powe to hear their options.

Michele Kloda, a Powe parent, has been working side-by-side with members of the Durham Public Schools maintenance department to figure out options for the space the tree occupies, and options for removing parts of the stump.

“We’ve been good stewards of it,” Kloda said. “No one has hacked their initials into it, the root systems have remained viable, it’s had plenty of room to grow. It really did live out its life.”

Kloda is also working with the Durham Museum of Life and Science to help reclaim interesting trees from around Durham and was approached to help preserve part of the Powe willow oak.

Once the museum has a section of the tree, it will be repurposed to become part of a natural playscape set to open in 2015.

The next question to be answered is what happens to the rest of the viable wood once the tree has been almost completely cut down.

Kloda said there is already wood allotted to create 28 “cookies” or cross-sections of the tree for every classroom.  Other parts will stay on the school’s playground and be repurposed into equipment.

Keeping all of that wood for the students to use and enjoy is something Kloda said is “unprecedented” for DPS.

Principal Michael Somers said now the school is trying to figure out how to allow other staff members and community members to be able to get their own piece of the Powe willow oak.

“How do we appropriately utilize the rest of the wood?” he asked. Originally they were just going to scrap all the wood. Instead the wood was saved. They’re also going to have to work now to redo a landscape around where the tree stood.

“Then let’s figure out what to do next,” Somers said. “But let’s just not get rid of (the wood).”

Sections of the tree were being cut down Wednesday and Thursday, and Somers was able to make the decision to save the viable wood from it before more of the tree was taken on Friday.  

“You saved it all, and that was absolutely your decision,” Kloda said.

Those are the next steps for those involved and invested in the project — figuring out what to do with the wood and how to finance a new landscape. The tree was a mainstay in the Powe landscape. There will now be room to look into planting more trees or flowers.

Luckily Kloda and Somers have been working closely with a representative with the maintenance department and will be able to plan and wait for the appropriate funds.

It’s still early in the stages of planning what to do with the wood. Somers said he’d be bringing the subject up during school improvement team meetings over the summer to help implement ideas.

“I haven’t even fully looked at (the wood),” he said. “It was kind of just like, let’s get this moved and then let’s figured out.”

They’re hoping to get everything rolling in time for when school starts in August.