Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bishop Woods in peril?

A fragment of the old Talawanda forest survives - for now

By Denise Smith Amos
Enquirer staff writer

Professors James Oris (left), and Bruce Steinly under a canopy of leaves in Bishop Woods, a stand of old-growth trees on the Miami University campus.
OXFORD - A small semicircle of woods on Miami University's Oxford campus is complicating the school's plans to build a larger, more prestigious business school.

Miami officials want to expand the Richard T. Farmer School of Business into a new building in 2008. University leaders say the new school would increase in size and course offerings; they hope it will be among the top 25 business schools in the nation.

But university officials don't know where to put it. After an initial site plan proved too tight a fit for the more than 200,000-square-foot building, the campus planning committee drew up a short list of other sites, and the small woods, called Bishop Woods, was among those most favored.

That has spawned controversy, campus petition drives, impassioned college newspaper editorials and a public meeting that drew more than 100 people last month. Tonight a second public hearing will discuss the woods and the space needs of Miami's business school.

Bishop Woods is less than 3 acres of trees that since 1986 have been allowed to grow wild. With its underbrush, wildflowers and young trees of differing heights, it provides a natural contrast to Miami's neatly manicured campus of lawns, paved walkways and red-brick buildings.

Bishop Woods is not tidy, even its proponents agree, with some old trees standing leafless or lying decaying on the ground.

Some of its healthy, mature trees, which are 150 years old and older, are home to flying squirrels, said Bruce Steinly, an assistant professor.

Steinly specializes in mosquitoes, but he sometimes watches the squirrels at night.

These nocturnal creatures are smaller than most gray squirrels, he said. They have a membrane connecting their limbs, allowing them to sail through the air, from one tree to another. They feed mostly at dusk and before dawn on seeds.

"They're not considered endangered, but they're very cute," added James T. Oris, another professor in Miami's zoology department.

"These woods are a fragment of the original Talawanda forest, which was here when the pioneers came," Oris said.

In addition to squirrels, there are also deer, fox, woodpeckers, hawks and other animals.

The woods also are home to the Nodding rattlesnake root, which the Ohio Department of Natural Resources classifies as threatened.

The woods are a natural laboratory for Miami's zoology, botany, biology, ecology and environmental science classes, both men said. Some students say the woods and Miami's greenery were main attractions for them.

"Tearing down the woods tears down the aesthetics of the campus. We have enough red brick buildings; we don't need more," said William Lohr, a 20-year-old sophomore from Hilliard, Ohio.

The campus planning committee is expected to make a decision next month which site to recommend to Miami's board of trustees, which meets in December.

"The challenge is, we're in the midst of the process," said Robert Keller, university architect and campus planner.

Miami's tradition mandates against constructing any campus building taller than three stories.

Keller said the building needs a footprint of at least 50,000 square feet, in addition to space around it for walkways, driveways, parking and access, said Robert Keller, a university architect and planner.


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