Almost two years ago, the oaks on the corner were injected with the herbicide Spike-80DF by noted Alabama football fan Harvey Updyke.
The trees initially were thought to survive the poison, but further testing revealed the new foliage had traces of the chemical even after sugar solutions had been inserted in their trunks to try and reverse the effects of the herbicide.
The University had to plan for the day that Toomer’s Corner would not be able to be rolled.
Auburn’s football graciously allowed the trees to be only be rolled three times this past football season to ease the stress on the dying trees, but a long-term replacement had to be reached.
In the spring of 2012, a Committee to Determine the Future of Rolling Toomer’s Corner was created.
“If the trees by some chance live, then there would not be a need for us to find another location to roll, which would be great news,” said Debbie Shaw, chairperson for the committee, in April. “However, since the chances are still relatively slight, it is important we continue with our backup plan regarding the Toomer’s Corner rolling tradition.”
That backup plan was put into action in October with public workshops held on Auburn’s campus to received input from students, faculty and the Auburn Family on the future of the corner.
One month later in November, four plans were presented on campus for the future of the historical corner.
The four plans were named as follows: Olmsted Arc Path, Samford Diagonal, Circle and Center, and Arcs and Radicals. Not quite as catchy as Toomer’s Corner, but campus planner Jeffery Dumars says these plans are just the beginning.
“The intent then is for the team to create two more revised schemes,” Dumars said. “There are a couple of different ways to do this depending on the feedback. We could take pieces of each of the themes to create two themes or we might advance two themes because those are well accepted as they are. It all depends on the comments that come back.”
Those comments will be from an online survey that is currently under construction. Dumars says the survey will be a way for the entire Auburn family to have their voice heard.
“The next step is to create an online survey to offer the broader Auburn family to be able to provide comment, feedback and input on the initial themes and what’s important to consider when designing them,” Dumars said. “It’s going to be one big piece of how we judge the designs is how they address those themes. We want the broader Auburn family to see what those are to this point and be able to comment on that. If you’ve seen the options, they are still very preliminary sketches. They aren’t very far advanced.”
Once the survey is complete, who will take over from there?
“The facilities management landscape master planning teams will manage that and push it forward,” Dumars said. “That group will steer them and guide them on what comments to take, and we’ll have to present the results of the survey and the input we received back to the campus.”
Many students on campus attended the workshops and plan to fill out the online survey as well. Each expressed their happiness that the University was incorporated the voices of the people in such an important decision.
“Toomer’s Corner is more than just trees or an intersection,” graduate student Matt Donaldson said. “It’s meant so much to so many people that it’s only right for those people to have a say in what its future will look like.”
The hope of creating the same atmosphere at the corner for the future generation of Auburn fans was paramount for students as well.
“I just want my children to be able to experience what I experienced,” senior Josh Hastings said. “That small piece of land has meant so much to be and my parents that I want to be able to share that same feeling with my children.”
But the small area where the oaks are planted isn’t the only thing the architects and campus planners must take into consideration when devising a new plan for the corner. There is a typical look to Auburn’s architecture: brick, white trim and gray roof. But there isn’t that same standard for landscape across campus.
There isn’t a concrete example or set of guidelines in everyone’s mind of what an Auburn landscape is,” Dumars said. “Everyone walks around and it’s very successful and people like it. It’s very park-like, and it’s a great place, but it’s not clear on what type of trees, what type of furnishings, what type of paving there is across campus. The landscape master plan wants to set guidelines and a vision if you will for what Auburn landscape is.”
The concerns for a cohesive look even expands past the dividing line of campus and Auburn’s downtown area.
“We’re looking at Toomer’s as not just the intersection, whether it be Toomer’s Corner or Toomer’s Drug, but it’s a broader piece of the campus,” Dumars said. “It has to relate to the whole length of College, the whole length of Magnolia, Samford Park as well as the city and downtown and how important that piece of landscape is to the downtown.”
The main question Dumars said he has been asked was if the new structure will be ready for football season next year?
“The original thought was that if the trees had to come down, we would want something up by next football season,” Dumars said. “That’s not realistic.”
Knowing the impact this decision will have for decades and generations to come, Dumars and his teams are in no rush to complete the task.
“It’s just an important piece to the Auburn community,” he said. “It’s going to take longer than that. So we’re not rushing. The only contract we have at this point is to finish these two refined plans and have those presented in February. Assuming at that point we can have consensus on a plan for a future vision for the Corner, assuming the trees have to be replaced and we have to rip up pavement, move walls and soil due to remediation, at that point, we hope to have a common vision where everyone buys into that plan.
That common vision will take longer than expected to create. The plan is loosely scheduled to finish a year behind expectations.
“Then we will initiate a contract with a set of consultants to do the design work,” Dumars said. “And that work will take a couple of months. Maybe even six months or a year, then we have time to do the construction before the football season of 2014.”
Even though Dumars has only been in Auburn two and a half years, he recognizes the importance of what this project means to the Auburn Family.
“This is the most emotional and critical design project that I’ve worked on,” he said.
A slideshow presentation is available here.
To view the accompanying multimedia presentation, click here.