(Accurately) remember the Council Oak

(Accurately) remember  the Council Oak

Story by Beth Hellwig

I was greatly disheartened by Mr. Frank Pellegrino’s “Remember the Council Oak?” column in the Nov. 10 edition of The Spectator. 

As chair of the Davies Student Center Steering Committee, and on behalf of the students, faculty, staff and design professionals who have worked so diligently, thoughtfully and inclusively to make the new W.R. Davies Student Center a reality, I feel compelled to respond, both to defend their integrity and to set straight the significant factual errors upon which Mr. Pellegrino based his strongly worded but misinformed opinions.

In his column, Mr. Pellegrino engaged in revisionist history when describing the controversy surrounding the potential removal or transplanting of the Council Oak and the decision by the university to shift the student center site to the east to preserve the tree and site.

Mr. Pellegrino made two primary accusations regarding the impact of the Council Oak decision on the student center project: (1) that the steering committee “wanted to keep the discussions on the topic quiet so they could avoid the backlash” and (2) that this year the project cost students “at least $200 … that was completely wasted.”

In formulating his opinion, Mr. Pellegrino relied primarily on two items of “evidence.” The first was his contention that the first mention of the Council Oak in steering committee meeting minutes didn’t appear until August 2009.
The second is that the former Division of State Facilities project manager told him in an interview that “the redesign would cost approximately $2 to $2.5 million for the delays in construction and redesign, perhaps even more.”

I would like to note that minutes from no less than six pre-August 2009 meetings of the Davies Student Center Building Committee and Steering Committee, posted on the University Centers website provide indirect and direct references to the Council Oak. These references are found in the Feb. 3 Building Committee minutes, as well as the April 7, May 26, June 23, July 13 and July 28 Steering Committee minutes.

These references render clearly false Mr. Pellegrino’s accusation that the steering committee wanted to keep the topic quiet by not discussing it during meetings.

In reality, the sacredness of the Council Oak tree and site were of utmost concern to committee members, who early on and repeatedly consulted with members of the local Native American community about how best to honor this historic place on our campus.

Mr. Pellegrino’s assertion that the decision to move the Davies Student Center site has cost students at least $200 more this year is equally erroneous. There has been no increase in the cost of the project. The project budget of $48.8
million was first approved by the UW System Board of Regents in December 2006; it was enumerated at $48.8 million by the legislature in the 2007-09 state budget; and the project budget today is still $48.8 million. There has been no change in budget. Furthermore, the $2 million to $2.5 million estimate of increased costs attributed to the former project manager was wildly speculative at the time (and The Spectator was told as much), and such an increase never happened.

I want to assure students there has been no cost increase. The segregated fee paid by students for construction was fully implemented at $326 per year in 2010-11, and it will remain at $326 this year and until the debt service is retired in 20 years.

Had Mr. Pellegrino contacted me or others on the steering committee before writing his column, or had Spectator editors verified his statements, we would have been able to share the facts presented here, as well as a wealth of other information that would have better informed him and Spectator readers.

The Spectator, readers of the newspaper, and those of us on the steering committee deserve facts, not misinformation.

 

Beth Hellwig

 

 

Beth Hellwig is UW-Eau Claire’s vice chancellor for student affairs and chair of the W.R. Davies Student Center Steering Committee.

 

Click here to read Frank F. Pellegrino’s editorial referenced in this column