Sept. 5, 2001 – Four Ficus trees growing adjacent to the eastern side of the Reichhold Center for the Arts have to be removed to prevent further invasion from the aggressive root systems that have begun to compromise the floor of the lobby area of the Reichhold. The roots have also caused extensive damage to underground sewage pipes and a parking slab.
According to horticultural specialists at the University of the Virgin Island's Cooperative Extension Service, it will not be possible to save the adult trees, which were planted about two decades ago.
Roy Watlington, chancellor of UVI's St. Thomas campus and a former executive vice president of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, said in a release, the University will mourn the loss of the trees.
"We at the University consider it a tragedy to have to sever these beautiful trees, which have provided a majestic canopy at the Reichhold Center, but in this situation we have no choice," Watlington said. "The planting of these trees so close to the foundation of the center almost two decades ago was a mistake. We are investigating what kind of vegetation can safely replace these trees."
For at least five years, seeping sewage has been a nagging concern for the Reichhold Center. It recently became a health issue, forcing the closure of the Reichhold Center's administrative offices, while a construction crew investigated the cause.
"It's an expensive venture to continuously repair the plumbing, and finally our plumbers determined that what needed to happen was to dig up the whole area. That's when we discovered the extent of the roots and the damage they had inflicted," said Reichhold director David Edgecombe.
Carlos Robles, a specialist with UVI's Cooperative Extension Service, said Ficus trees have aggressive growing habits. Their roots seek out moisture and even the tiniest fissure in a pipe can present an environment for growth.
During the investigation, a four-foot hole was dug under the Reichhold Center lobby, where a system of roots the size of a human forearm had not only invaded and cracked the sewage pipes, but had begun to undermine the lobby floor itself. Further, the roots caused a cement slab in the Reichhold Center's employee parking lot to lift about six inches.
Additionally, berries and leaves from the overhanging trees had corroded the Reichhold's air handling system.
"These are not bad trees themselves, they just were placed in the wrong location some 20 years ago," Robles said. "Some trees grow faster than others and ficus grow very rapidly."
The university is investigating more appropriate replacement foliage for the area.


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