Paved paradise … Some lament destruction of The Bush on MU campus to make way for dorms
BY AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
Part of The Bush, a wooded landmark on the Millersville University campus, was cut and bulldozed during spring break, leaving some faculty members feeling angry and betrayed.
The woods are being leveled to make way for a 262-space parking lot for students and a detention basin, both related to a $180 million project to build eight new residence halls over five years. The work area totals 3.5 acres.
In addition, the relocation of a water line has punched a 200-foot swath through the woods all the way to the Conestoga River.
"We're trying to channel our anger, not unleash it," said Daniel Yokom, a biology professor who, like others in the department, believed the woodland had been formally protected after a successful battle 20 years ago to save the area from a proposed bypass around Millersville borough.
The forested strip that hugs the Conestoga River on MU's South Quad has never been clearly defined and its size has been variously put at 13 and 20 acres.
Regardless of its official size, it has long been used by generations of students for strolls on marked trails and occasional partying and courting.
To biology majors -- about one of every 10 students on campus -- it's a "living laboratory," often used in conjunction with their studies.
"This is the equivalent of you bulldozing my classroom building," Yokom told an MU official Wednesday afternoon while he and retired biology professor Ken Miller walked in an open area that had recently held mature trees.
"Well, Dan, they've sure done a number on Catherine's plots," Miller remarked to his former colleague.
Almost completely plowed under were the fenced plots where former university biologist Catherine Keever for decades did internationally acclaimed studies about the predictable life species and processes that slowly transform old fields into a forest.
Several biology department faculty members say they were not informed of the construction work in the The Bush until receiving an email on March 15 -- the same day earth-moving began -- from John Hoover, chair of the biology department.
Spring break also began after classes that Friday.
Yokom suggested that had the email been received earlier, there would have been students chaining themselves to trees.
"I saw people weeping in the hallways when they heard the news," Yokom said.
Said Hoover, "I think the department is trying to process what happened. People are upset over what happened because that area of The Bush is very important to our programs, in providing us the ability to take our students out for outdoors courses. We have classes now that use The Bush and we're scrambling now to investigate how we can replace that.
"I'm not sure I would blame anyone in particular, but somewhere along the line the importance of that patch of woods got lost or was not appreciated by folks that were planning this project."
Robert T. Smith, dean of MU's science and math departments, said what happened was a "large miscommunication.
"Nothing sinister happened. We had drawings where parking lots were going to be and sent them out two weeks ago. But the extent of the work was not clear to any of us. I wish we had known in detail what was going to happen.
"It's just been an unfortunate occurrence."
The detention basin and parking area in The Bush was not part of the original plans for the new dormitory project, said Roger Bruszewski, MU vice president of finance and administration.
The borough wanted the parking lots, and that required a detention basin to catch stormwater runoff, he said.
But he strongly disagreed with the notion that details of the project had been kept from faculty or the public. He said he's talked about the project on many occasions, including to borough council and in budget presentations open to faculty and staff.
He said he did not know that biology classes depended on The Bush. Asked about prior protection status for The Bush, he said it was researched and nothing in writing was found.
Bruszewski also said there was nothing intentional about starting the project over the college's spring break. Work was to begin March 1, but approvals from the state were delayed, he said.
He also confirmed that the university was in the early stages of talks to secure the use of a 25-acre, mostly wooded tract known as the Silar property that abuts university property.
The land was recently purchased by Student Lodging Inc., a subsidiary of Student Services Inc., the nonprofit that would own the new dormitories. It touches Penn Manor School District property and could easily be reached on foot by students, he said.
Smith, who has been involved in securing the new land, said, "We're actively trying to find something suitable as quickly as we can."
That would be a silver lining, Yokom said, but would not take the sting out of what has happened to The Bush.
"I'm sad that in our institutional people, there wasn't enough respect for our environment."