Students and faculty members are mounting opposition to a proposed indoor athletic practice facility that would eliminate a portion of the Stadium Woods — a rare old-growth forest behind Lane Stadium.
As the athletics department attempts to set plans for the facility, which would provide the football team and other Virginia Tech programs with a place to practice during inclement weather, it has encountered a strong pushback led by members of the university's forestry department.
The controversy can be seen many ways — athletics threatening education, environmentalism taking on endless expansion — but must ultimately be decided based on the value of the space to the university community.
So what does the community stand to gain from the proposed facility? The new fieldhouse would be a state-of-the-art indoor practice space for the Hokies football team and any other program that needed it during bad weather. Multiple other major football programs — including ACC rivals Florida State and Virginia — are either finishing similar facilities or building them right now. Tech's facility would bolster the football program's recruiting effort as Shane Beamer attempts to help the program his father built take the next step and win a national championship.
Tech football's giant revenue base should grow as a result of the improved facilities. The facility's construction seems inevitable, but the question of where is still hotly contested.
The value of the forest is decidedly harder to decipher, but will likely be the key factor in setting the location of the facility. Forestry experts have deemed the area's white oaks — which date back several centuries — a cherished rarity for America's East coast. The university's forestry department uses the Stadium Woods for instructional purposes, and doesn't want to take a chance of losing the historic trees.
Athletic officials say the facility would involve cutting down only about one-fifth of the trees, but forestry department faculty members leading the opposition movement estimate the facility would destroy or damage up to half of the forest's old-growth oaks.
But while that issue needs to be resolved before a final decision is made, the alternative location for the facility may present greater problems. The only other option that has been presented for the practice space would involve bulldozing the tennis courts and roller rink along Washington Street, next to the basketball practice facility.
In addition to creating a potential eyesore adjacent to many of the campus residence halls, the athletic department's plan B would almost certainly hinder the activities of more university students. Many students use the tennis courts, and the roller rink was just rebuilt after being demolished during construction of the basketball team's practice facility.
A relatively smaller number of students and faculty members utilize the Stadium Woods, and they should still be able to use the remaining portion of the forest. Meanwhile, if the woods' supporters win, the entirety of the tennis courts and the roller rink would disappear.
Certainly, if the facility is built in Stadium Woods, appropriate steps should be taken to ensure the survival of the maximum number of ancient white oaks. But it is difficult to see a better alternative to the facility's proposed location.
While the woods' supporters are putting up a loud fight, the number of community members who regularly utilize or even occasionally appreciate the woods does not outweigh the clear and tangible benefits the new practice facility would provide to the university community as a whole.
The editorial board is comprised of the editors of the Collegiate Times.