The “Big Tree,” a towering 85-year-old eucalyptus that served as a gathering spot for San Luis Obispo High School students for decades, was cut down on Saturday. But its spirit will live on, district officials said Monday.
The “Big Tree” will be replaced with a student support center and performing arts building, the San Luis Coastal Unified School District said in a news release. Ryan Pinkerton, the assistant superintendent for business services at the district, said he had a professional photographer take pictures of the tree to put in the new performing arts building as a tribute.
He added that district officials are looking at the possibility of using some of the tree’s wood for a display or milling, “but eucalyptus is not an ideal wood for those types of ideas thus far.”
“We wanted to do it after the youth sports camps and before the start of school,” Pinkerton wrote in an email. The district said last month that the tree was at risk of losing large limbs, endangering children, and the tree’s roots system invaded a sewer pipe.
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More than 1,600 tree lovers signed a petition to save the evergreen hardwood, but their efforts failed.
Brian Dzukola, the father of both a graduate and a sophomore at the school, was on campus Monday when he saw the tall stump that was left. He posted photos on Facebook, with the status “feeling sad.”
“I am a high school parent, and I really don’t like the disregard of the history of the tree and what it means to the large number of students who have attended SLO High,” Dzukola said in a message. “It’s sad that the current administration has chosen to place their new building in place of a historical landmark rather than build around it and use it as the landmark it is. Anyone who attended SLO High knows where the Big Tree is!”
“The tree was a safety risk,” Pinkerton wrote. “Had a branch fallen on a student, the furor over the tree would have shifted to our neglect of the situation.”
“Besides the safety aspect of the tree, we also have very limited space on the SLOHS campus to build the classrooms and buildings necessary to house our students,” Pinkerton said. “With the potential of increased housing in our area, it’s critical for us to utilize that campus as best we can.”
Tree-cutting crews faced some fierce opposition when they attempted to remove oak trees last month, including a neighbor who sat in a tree out of protest and found solidarity from others. Despite their efforts, some oak trees were cut down last month.
Tribune reporter Monica Vaughan contributed to this story.