Monday, June 04, 2012
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Stadium Woods update: Committee recommends alternative site for Virginia Tech practice facility

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BLACKSBURG — An ad-hoc committee convened at Virginia Tech President Charles Steger's request to study the impact of a proposed indoor football practice facility on a 14-acre woodland known as Stadium Woods recommended Monday that university officials come up with a construction plan that will protect most or all of the woods.
No action was taken by the board.

The 15-person committee, chaired by professor of urban affairs and planning John Randolph, was tasked with making a recommendation after objections were made to the preferred site of the athletics department, near Lane Stadium and next to the current football locker room and practice fields.

Randolph gave a presentation on the committee's work to the board of visitors. The board took no action on the issue.

Stadium Woods supporters have argued that the old growth forest there is rare on the East Coast, with a collection of white oaks that are at least 300 years old.

Randolph told the board that the committee found that the woods have social and ecological value to the campus and the community, and should be preserved.

As such, the committee recommended that the athletic department and the facilities department work to come up with a plan that would locate the 84,000-square-foot practice facility on the Washington Street tennis courts, and have minimal or no impact on the woods.

Two concept plans were recommended, one that would preserve the woods entirely, and one that would take up to .2 acres of the woodland. Randolph told the board the committee hoped officials would agree on a plan somewhere between those two concepts that would balance the needs and desires of all the stakeholders.

The committee also recommended that university officials begin appropriating funds for the relocation of the tennis courts and a roller hockey rink that would be displaced by the facility, saying they are popular and well-used by students.

The committee furthermore challenged supporters of keeping the woods intact to help come up with a long-term management plan for the woods, as well as potentially raising funds to remove invasive species and do other restoration work there.

[ Where should the facility be built? Catch up on the controversy (and comment) on Andy Bitter's VT football blog | Share your reaction on Dan Casey's blog ]

The recommendations have gone to Vice President Sherwood Wilson, who oversees facilities. Wilson said his office would study the committee's report and recommendations thoroughly and make a final recommendation to Steger.

There is no timeline for resolution of the issue, Wilson said, adding that officials will take as much time as due diligence requires to come to a good resolution.

Randolph's presentation can be found at bov.vt.edu. A copy of the full report was not immediately available.

About a dozen people sat in the meeting room holding "Save Stadium Woods" signs, including Jeff Kirwan, a retired extension specialist, who first discovered that the woods contained dozens white oaks estimated to be 300 or more years old.

Kirwan declined to comment on the recommendations after the meeting.

Starflower O'Sullivan, who joined the silent demonstration, said she was concerned that the committee, although recommending the woods be preserved, would agree with up to .2 acres being cut or otherwise disturbed by construction.

To keep the 90-foot-tall facility in line with university standards of building height along Washington Street, about 20 percent of the facility would have to be sunk into the ground.

That could significantly increase the construction cost of the facility, estimated in 2006 to be about $19 million.
 

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