University President Charles Steger's decision to save Stadium Woods is admirable, and it is the culmination of campaigning of Friends of Stadium Woods, solid research by an independent panel and the support of many in the Blacksburg area who did not wish to see such a valuable resource diminished.
This is a great win not only for environmentalists, but for the average Virginia Tech student who may not completely understand the symbolism of the woods. These woods served as a challenge to unite students to take up a cause that directly affected them. Although they may not use the woods on a daily basis, anyone who cares about the image and reputation of our school can at least empathize with the opposition to the facility’s construction.
When you look at the issue a bit deeper, you see an identity struggle emerge. This struggle is between the images of Tech as a leading, champion football school, and its serious academic structure, which includes competitive engineering and life sciences programs. When the school begins to prioritize an indoor training facility over a historical and priceless natural resource, you have a problem.
The Tech master plan, which was developed in 2009 and outlines any future construction projects on and around campus, designated Stadium Woods as a “cultural greenway,” a term also designated to the Drillfield and Duck Pond. This means it is a reservation of natural area meant to be preserved and enjoyed by future generations.
This designation itself should have set off some warning bells within the university’s own internal building committees. The convenience of having an indoor facility right next to the practice field and locker rooms does not outweigh the cultural and historic importance of the woods, which have been a defining aspect of the university’s landscape for generations.
Not only are the woods home to centuries-old white oaks, but it is also used by the forestry department for teaching purposes. Construction of the proposed indoor facility within the woods could have potentially caused widespread damage to the fragile ecosystems surrounding the facility.
Now, I am not a forestry major, nor do I even know exactly what in the curriculum involves using Stadium Woods. I do know, however, that if building in the woods could have a detrimental effect on the ability of students to learn, or for the professors to teach, the idea should most definitely be scrapped.
I also understand Tech is home to a first-class football program, which generates massive amounts of revenue and a lot of beneficial publicity; however, Hokie football is something uniting the community and gives us something to cheer for week in and week out. The importance of football should not be underestimated, and as such the indoor practice facility that has been determined necessary should be built. But, compromising a valuable resource that serves many students and the community at large is not acceptable.
The combination of factors described above leading to the decision were probably only a fraction of the many discussed by the independent panel, Vice President Wilson and Steger. The fact it came to a decision to move the location of the facility is not only a testament to the resilience of the student body, but also to our school’s administration. It made a decision that kept the school’s integrity intact and set a precedent which established the priorities of the school. The credit should not go solely to those who campaigned for the woods, but also to our president and the administration who correctly put the students first.
I would like to add a caveat to the praise I’m heaping onto the administration. The secondary site after the Woods is the tennis court and roller rink area. The roller rink — the only one in the region, believe it or not — has already been torn down once before in order to build a basketball practice facility, and the tennis courts are used by many students as well as the club tennis team.
I hope in choosing the new site for the facility, the administration takes into account the students using the rink and courts before they move ahead with construction.