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Bert's Fate Still Has To Wait

The fate of Bert and other heritage trees surrounding the Nuclear Sciences Building remains undecided despite growing frustrations between the university and its architects.

A meeting was held at 9 a.m. by the University of Florida’s Lakes, Vegetation and Landscaping Advisory Committee to discuss the expansion of the Nuclear Sciences Building, which threatens the existence of seven heritage trees.

At the center of the conversation was Bert, a 36-inch-diameter bluff oak tree that is estimated to be between 138 and 150 years old, according to associate professor of Fire Science and Forest Conservation Leda Kobziar.

While there were other plans, the committee reviewed Grimshaw Architects’ proposed plan called Parallel Bars, which hopes to save Bert and four other heritage trees in the area by creating a design that builds around them.

Committee members refused to move forward and voiced frustration with the plan and asked that the plan be redrafted and resubmitted.

“What we saw in the plan is a simple blocked out area that doesn’t give us enough information to make a decision on this particular project,” said Committee Chair Gail Hansen de Chapman.

Steve Orlando, UF’s senior director of Media Relations, said architects are trying to strike balance between academics and conservation by drafting this particular plan.

He said conservation is important to the university and to his staff as well. But he said their No. 1 mission is education.

“The college of engineering wants to be a top-10 college, and they want a top-10 building,” he said.

But Bert has been awaiting sentencing for nearly two years when the UF’s Nuclear Sciences Building first decided to draft plans to build the Nexus building.

The wait will have to continue for at least another month.

The committee does not expect to see these designs until the next LVL meeting on June 11, said Committee Chair Gail Hansen de Chapman.

Hansen de Chapman said the design was very similar to an original plan discussed in a meeting a year ago.

“We really do want them to make a greater effort to save some of the heritage trees,” she said.

Orlando said the architects are taking the committee’s requests into consideration. He said they have scaled back the building by 20,000 square feet to help save some of these trees.

Bert is considered a staple of campus for many committee members, but his redemption could mean the loss of other heritage trees.

Hansen de Chapman said the bluff oak is a rarity and this project has been especially hard for the committee. But she said she wants to see everyone involved come to a good compromise.

“It’s just a project that takes some thought and discussion on everyone’s part to come up with a result that we are happy with,” she said.

View the proposed NEXUS Building Plans

Abbie is a reporter for WUFT News. Reach him by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing