On the morning of June 2, 2011, President Richard B. Flynn surveyed the damage that had occurred from a massive storm hitting the Springfield area the day before. As Flynn made his way to Marsh Memorial, he took in the views of the battered campus.
The roof of International Hall had been ripped completely off, resulting in damage to the building as well as many mattresses being air-dropped into Lake Massasoit. Windows of several buildings looked like ugly, hollow holes in the battered structures. There were even trees floating in the lake. The campus had surely seen better days.
While the damage to buildings was obvious, the devastation of campus trees was also deeply troubling to Flynn. A beloved, weeping cherry tree was lost to the violent storm. Entire trees were scattered around Marsh and the Administration buildings, making access to them almost impossible. Along roadways, vast quantities of trees were uprooted from the ground and now served the purpose of acting as over-sized roadblocks. Large tree limbs were scattered throughout the campus, making walking a chore. Barely a single tree remained behind Reed and Massasoit halls.
On June 1st an EF1 tornado hit the city of Springfield, Springfield College and the surrounding areas. The college had much of its landscape altered, and some iconic elements of the campus were destroyed. Along with the cherry tree, there were several trees lost that predated 1885, when Springfield College first opened its doors.
Now after many months of cleaning up and planning, Flynn and his staff are beginning to replant some of these trees. According to Flynn and the Vice President of Administration and Finance, John Mailhot, the school lost more than 600 trees and has currently put in at least 149 new ones, along with 200 planned to be planted this fall.
Flynn emphasized that the planting was being targeted in several key locations. One of these areas was the banks of the Massasoit, wrapping around the backs of Gulick, Massasoit, Reed and International Halls. One key purpose of trees in this area, according to Flynn, was “to control the erosion of the banks.” Due to the lack of trees, the banks could easily overflow because of the absence of tree roots keeping the soil in place and creating solid ground. Behind Gulick, where a forest of trees stood, now sits a mound of dirt with a few beaten-up trees giving way to a scenic view of the lake.
With the destruction of trees not only from the tornado, but from a freak snowstorm in October last year, the school has been given the chance to “internationalize” the campus. Flynn has a wide list of trees that could possibly be planted on campus, representing many different countries. They include Japanese umbrella pine, Japanese white pine, Persian ironwood, along with Chinese elm.
Along with the trees making the campus internationalized, they beautify the campus as well. “It adds a beauty to the campus as well as function. It adds shade as well as oxygen and greening of the campus, which most student groups are very much in favor of,” said Flynn.
The president is very committed to the upkeep of the school and the image it projects to incoming students and those who live in the local area.
The college received a grant to categorize its trees on campus. It will be installing a GPS system that will allow students, faculty and staff to efficiently find certain trees on campus for classes and personal use as well.
“We received a grant [for] around $30,000 to categorize every tree on campus. We now have a GPS system with every tree on campus. So if you want to see a Japanese Lilac tree, you punch it in, and it would light up on the campus map. It’s great for botany classes as well for the sciences. Plus it’s a great way to manage your forest system,” said Flynn.
Along with the grant to install the categorizing system for the school, the college received help and aid from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), as well as a company called Northern Tree to clear the trees and to help restore the campus for the upcoming school year. The school estimated the total cost of the damages caused by the tornado around the range of $8 to 10 million. Most of it was covered by insurance, but the loss and damage to the trees was not. The grants from FEMA were used to clear away the fallen trees and debris as well as to purchase and plant the new trees.
Even though this disaster ravaged the college and drastically altered the physical elements of the campus, Flynn and his staff have been able to use the crisis as an opportunity to advance the college in a completely different direction. In recent years, Flynn has spearheaded plans to build new buildings and renovate existing ones to create a modern and welcoming feel on campus. Now the school is working on the landscape and modernizing it as well through the “internationalization” of campus as well as the GPS systems that can be used to find any tree for botany classes or just the avid tree appreciator. These are just some ways that Springfield College, even through adversity, can find ways to strive forward and become innovators in an always changing and modernizing world.