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COURTESY OF BEAVERTON SCHOOL DISTRICT - The sequoia tree will find new life as an art installation at the rebuilt Vose Elementary School.


At his wood shop off a winding rural road in Aurora, certified arborist Michael Bruno reads the life-rings and examines the nutrient layers of a sequoia tree which recently arrived from Vose Elementary School in Beaverton.

This summer, the school is being demolished to make way for a safer, modern building with expanded room for its growing student population.

Over the course of the next year, as Vose Elementary students wait for their school to be rebuilt, Bruno will breathe new life into this tree. It’s one of two sequoias that were planted shortly after the school was built in 1962.

As a part of the Vose rebuild, the two sequoias had to be removed to make way for the school’s new alignment, which district and city planners designed to improve traffic flow, shifting it from busy Denney Road. to S.W. King Boulevard. The first tree was cut down on June 21. The second will be taken down later this month.

First, Bruno will mill wood pieces for slab benches, library stools, garden planters and a giant art installation that will all grace the new school. To reduce their moisture content, he will let the pieces rest in a warehouse for just under a year before sticking them in a kiln — a giant oven — in rotations for a month.

By using a kiln, “you accelerate what a season does,” said Bruno.

Finally, he will sand down and add a finishing coat to the wood pieces before delivering them back to Vose.

For over 50 years, the sequoias stood as physical and symbolic pillars as the school's population, the city of Beaverton, and the nation went through myriad changes.

Days before the first of the two trees were cut down, a group of teachers gathered around the base of the trees and read from Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book, “The Giving Tree.”

It’s a story about a tree who gives shelter, comfort and resources to a boy throughout his lifetime. And it evokes the kind of attachment and gratitude the Vose community has for the trees.

“They paid tribute to the fact that the trees mean so much, and do so much, for us,” said Vose Principal Victoria Galvan.

This atmosphere of acceptance came after a number of people in the Vose community expressed disappointment — even outrage — at the prospect of losing the landmark trees.

“There were a lot of vocal people, and a few were vividly upset,” said David Mantz, project coordinator for the Vose rebuild. “Usually, once they learned more about the plan to repurpose the trees, they were thrilled.”

Galvan heard from families with grandparents who were students during Vose’s inaugural years.

“They were kind of like the gates to the building,” said Galvan of the nearly 100-foot, 12,000-pound trees which towered over the neighborhood.

Two new sequoias will be planted elsewhere on the site during the rebuild, which is a part of the district’s $680 million construction bond that voters approved in 2014. And another 122 trees will be planted all around the school campus.

COURTESY OF BEAVERTON SCHOOL DISTRICT - Arborist Michael Bruno counts the life-rings and notes interesting characteristics of a sequoia tree that had to be removed from Vose Elementary School before its demolition.

Bruno says this is the first time a school district has commissioned him for a project. But repurposing trees for the sake of preserving their legacies is something he does all the time.

“It’s very common for families to keep a piece (of a tree) and turn it into a table, a bench, a mantle,” said Bruno.

On June 21, a contractor brought a crane to Vose to begin the removal process. Workers first took down the tree’s foliage, then chipped the limbs and branches into mulch that was put around the base of a 150-year-old oak tree on the Vose campus.

“Those wood chips are adding life back to the oak tree,” said Mantz. “And they come from a resource already on-site.”

Contractors then section-cut one of the trees, making sure the wood was preserved as much as possible, before Bruno loaded those pieces into his truck.

Back at his shop, Bruno pumps up his saw and begins slicing the tree section into a round that’s commonly called a “cookie.” As he saws, wood chips fly everywhere and a sweet smell pours out of the bark.

What emerges from slicing is always a surprise.

“I like to cut the tree open and see what I get,” said Bruno.

With the slice exposed, he points out the high contrast between the reddish heartwood and the lighter sapwood, which carries nutrients up through the tree and into its leaves. Where there are unusual spots and scars, Bruno conjectures about various events in the tree’s life history, like its first branch pruning.

It’s a life history that will welcome students back to their neighborhood school at the start of the 2017-18 school year.

During the upcoming school year, Vose students will attend their classes in a “swing school” that will house students from other elementary schools being rebuilt. After four consecutive years of hosting elementary schoolers, the site will become a new Beaverton School District middle school in 2020.

Mantz said project planners are floating the idea of using the wood art installation to teach elementary schoolers about the science of the tree — and the story of their school.

“The legacy of that tree is still strong,” said Mantz.

Students can look back at the pieces and remember, he said.

“They’ll be able to see that the trees didn’t go anywhere,” said Mantz. “They just have to look.”

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