A mature Cork Oak Photo: Wikipedia
A mature Cork Oak of the type that the West Branch Library is expected to plant in lieu of a removed redwood. Photo: Wikipedia

Two months after a contractor irreparably damaged the root system of a towering redwood tree that was slated to be the centerpiece of the garden at the West Branch library, the trustees of the Berkeley Public Library Board are on the verge of selecting another species to take its place.

The BOLT Board is expected on Wednesday night to select a Cork Oak tree to be the “signature” tree in the garden of the West Branch Library at 1125 University Avenue, currently being rebuilt. The Cork Oak , a native of Portugal, can grow about 40 feet high and 40 feet wide, according to John N. Roberts, a landscape architect working with Harley Ellis Devereaux, the architects on the branch reconstruction project.

“It has this incredibly interesting bark from which cork is made,” said Roberts. “It’s sculptural and very deeply textured. It will make it a particularly interesting tree to look at.”

A close up of the bark of a Cork Oak. Photo: Wikipedia
The bark of a Cork Oak. Photo: Wikipedia

BOLT asked Roberts to select a new tree for the garden after West Bay Builders so damaged the root system of the 70-foot tall redwood in October that it had to be taken down. The contract with West Bay Builders required the company to take precautions to preserve the root structure of the redwood during construction of the new library building, but those measures were not followed, according to a letter Donna Corbeil, the director of library services. The contractor damaged the roots while excavating around the tree, jeopardizing the stability of the tree.

Neighbors were upset about the damage to the tree, particularly since the landscape design required the removal of a small clump of redwoods that had stood behind the old West Branch Library for years. Suddenly, a shaded green area was gone, replaced by a clear view to the street and more traffic noise.

Roberts said the city had to remove the clump of redwoods because they were growing too close together and were not thriving. They were also in the way of the new building.

The redwood tree that used to be at the West Branch Library

But city officials had planned to preserve the signature redwood tree. Now that it is gone, they hope to put in a tree that will do better on the site.

Roberts was informed Berkeley did not want to put a native Coast Oak on the site, he said. Corbeil said the city does not have a formal policy against planting native oaks, but noted they are a protected species that requires permission to move. So he selected the Cork Oak, which is similar to a Coast Oak. It is drought tolerant, does not require much water and will thrive in this climate.

Roberts has been looking around for a mature Cork Oak and may have found one in a nursery in Mountain View, he said. It’s about 30-feet tall and costs about $22,000. The city would probably wait until the construction of the West Branch Library is further along before installing the tree, he said. The library is scheduled to be completed in mid to late 2013.

The city plans to ask West Bay Builders to pay for purchase and installation of a new tree, said Corbeil. The company already paid to take down the redwood tree.

A number of Berkeleyside readers suggested that Berkeley sell the wood of the redwood tree to bring in money. That wasn’t practical, said Corbeil. While redwood wood is valuable, its not economical to bring just one tree to a mill, she said.

The library did save some wood from the redwood and will incorporate it somehow into the new building, she said.

Contractor mistake damages lone redwood tree at library [10.11.12]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...