Buildings on campus recycle wood from Dell Medical School construction site

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jim Carse | Daily Texan Staff

Trees removed from the Dell Medical School construction site are getting a second life, being reporposed into furniture for places around campus.

The construction site for the medical school is located in an area that previously had over 100 trees. While building new buildings on campus, facilities services and construction crews try to preserve and relocate as many trees as possible. According to urban forestry assistant manager Jim Carse, about 60 trees have been transplanted from construction sites around campus over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, not all of the trees at the medical school site were good candidates for moving.

“In a perfect world, we’d be able to save more trees on these sites, but it’s difficult,” Carse said. “You don’t want to build and have a liability with a tree because it’s been mistreated.”

Instead of throwing all of the trees away or turning them into mulch, UT contractors are using them to build furniture and construction materials for the new medical school and other buildings around campus. According to Carse, almost all of the trees from the site have been salvaged and reused. 

The construction contractor for the medical school, Hensel Phelps, subcontracted Buda Woodworks to craft wood from the native pecan and elm trees into paneling for some of the walls and large desks in the Dell Medical School administrative and research buildings. 

UT has used wood from the Dell Medical School site for other similar projects over the past couple of years, and carpenters are still finding new ways to use it. Last year, the UT Carpenter Shop used the wood to make tables and benches for a courtyard in the nursing school building, UT Carpenter Shop supervisor Armando Blanco said. They are now making benches and tables, also from pecan and cedar elm wood, that will go in the Union.

Project manager Nina Hammoudeh said the courtyard, which was created by an addition to the nursing school building in 2009, was empty and gray before the nursing school added the repurposed wood furniture. 

“The nice thing about the wood is it really gave it some warmth, because it lacked that,” she said. “We were trying to keep it really organic with the plants, and that was really the main reason why none of the benches were exactly the same, to give it that uniqueness.”

Since the pieces are all hand-crafted by Blanco and the other UT carpenters, each piece of furniture in the courtyard is different. Hammoudeh said the space is now more inviting for students and faculty.

“We didn’t want it mass produced,” she said. “We can purchase pieces that are mass produced, but it was important as part of the medical community to bring back what is unique, what is organic.”

Blanco said the cost for the nursing school courtyard project was minimal. According to Hammoudeh, the budget for the courtyard was $100,000, but they only spent $50,000.

“We want to do more for other buildings, because it’s a win-win situation,” Blanco said. “The University is getting a good deal, because if you were to go buy this stuff, you would spend a lot more money.” Hensel Phelps’ project manager Erik LaRue said they saved on the Dell Medical School construction project as well by not paying to throw the trees away and not buying more wood for construction. Normally on construction projects, they would clear the land and send the trees to the landfill and then buy new wood to use in the building, he said.

“It’s almost reusing it twice,” Larve said. “Instead of paying someone to throw it away, you’re reusing it and you save on the final cost.”

Carse said that repurposing wood from trees that would normally be thrown away is like giving the trees a second life.

“For this project, it was really important to just make a push forward to get this stuff back into the building so that we can showcase it, be sustainable, and tell a story,” he said. “When you think about it, some of those trees are hundreds of years old. The thought that they’ll get another hundred years of life, that’s what makes me the most happy.”

This story has been updated since its initial publication.