UW News

June 4, 2009

The Tree Salvage Program would give new life to reclaimed wood

A beloved elm tree that stood at the entrance to what is now the Floyd and Delores Jones Playhouse is about to enjoy a new life in the lobby.

During the recent renovation of the playhouse, the tree was evaluated and found to be too fragile to save. But instead of turning into wood chips in someone’s garden, it was cut down and the wood transported to a local business called Urban Hardwoods. There, it was sliced lengthwise into approximately 2-inch-thick slabs, stacked and air-dried in a large warehouse for approximately one year. Finally, for six months it was cured in a large kiln, then fabricated into five benches that will sit in the playhouse lobby.

“We were able to visit Urban Hardwoods to select individual slabs for each of the five benches,” said Randy Everett, project manager in the Capital Projects Office. “Each piece of wood is beautiful and unique as to grain, color and edge quality, so selecting just the right ones can be daunting, but fun.”

The benches were installed in the lobby June 3, and signage is planned to explain to patrons where they came from. Urban Hardwoods, Everett said, donated the wood curing and most of the bench fabrication services in exchange for the surplus wood harvested from the elm.

Such wood reclamation is something that Campus Landscape Architect Kristine Kenney would like to see happen more often. That’s why she’s starting something she’s calling the Tree Salvage Program.

“A lot of people are coming to us asking for conference tables or benches or anything that can be made out of wood,” Kenney said. “So we said, ‘Well, we have a carpenter shop on campus; they can make this furniture.’ [That way] we make sure the trees that come down on our campus go into furniture that’s built for our campus.”

In ordinary circumstances, Kenney explained, trees that are taken down in a construction or renovation project belong to the contractor. And even in special circumstances such as the playhouse, where the tree is claimed for University use, the wood must be sent out for processing. Her aim is to bring that work in-house.

To that end, trees that have been taken down recently and are worth salvaging have been cut into 14-foot lengths and stored on campus. “I think we have probably 15 to 20 logs right now, and they’re all different species,” Kenney said. “We have cedar, we have elm, we have walnut.”

The roadblock to the project moving forward is funding for the milling of the logs — the one piece of the process that can’t be done in-house. Kenney is looking for a source of funding for that. But she says that’s an up-front cost, and that afterward this should be a self-sustaining project.

“So we’re encouraging any department out there that is interested to contact us and see if we can get this program started,” Kenney said.

Contact Kenney at kkenney@u.washington.edu.