February 26, 2019

Planning continues for a renewal of historic Andover Hall, the first comprehensive renovation since the building was constructed in 1911. The project will create new program space that will advance the HDS academic mission including new, inclusive multifaith space, modernized, state-of-the-art classrooms, flexible pedagogical spaces, and enhanced collaborative areas. It will also improve the building’s vital life safety systems, address accessibility issues, and significantly improve the building’s carbon footprint by incorporating many sustainable elements.

Red oak tree

There is a red oak tree located in the area adjacent to the main entrance of the Andover Hall library. Last fall, Harvard’s arborists identified the red oak’s health as being significantly compromised and in irreversible decline.

In 2018, members of the HDS community were invited to learn about the Andover Hall renewal and share their thoughts on the project with School administrators overseeing it. The School held 10 HDS community input sessions, mostly in the fall. During some of those meetings, and in December of 2018 when the project was unveiled to the Aggasiz-Baldwin Neighborhood Council, there were questions regarding whether the tree could be saved, or even moved.

In order to better understand the possibilities and state of the tree, an independent, third-party tree preservation company, Bartlett Tree Experts, was brought on to perform an extensive assessment of the tree’s structure, health, and vitality. Bartlett’s team included an ISA Board-Certified Master Arborist. Only 2 percent of all Certified Arborists possess the level of subject matter expertise to qualify as Board-Certified Master. In addition to a Level (2) Basic Tree Assessment, the Bartlett Tree experts performed a Level (3) Advanced Tree Risk Assessment using a resistance drill (Model PD400) to determine the level of internal decay throughout the stem and major branches.

On February 7, the team from Bartlett Tree Experts shared the findings of their assessment at a meeting of the Agassiz-Baldwin Neighborhood Council. They concluded that the tree is in “irreversible decline” and is at “high risk” of failure. Significant decay was found in the main trunk and the major limbs were found to be hollow. Further, they concluded that given its state of decline, the tree would not survive a transplantation. They too recommended that the tree be removed as soon as possible to avoid the potential for “significant” injury or damage to either people in the vicinity or to historic Andover Hall. The full report can be found below.

The findings from Bartlett’s assessment were shared with the City of Cambridge’s subject matter experts to secure a third opinion regarding the tree. The City’s Commissioner of Department of Public Works, the City Arborist and Director of Urban Forestry agreed with the conclusion to remove the tree.

Given that three recommendations have concluded that the tree poses a high risk to the safety of any proximate persons or property—especially given its location in a high traffic pedestrian area—there is no choice but to remove the tree. The safety of our faculty, staff, students, neighbors, and visitors is—and will remain—our top priority.

In line with its ongoing sustainability commitment, the Harvard Divinity School has committed to replacing both the amount of caliper and canopy of the red oak upon completion of construction to mitigate the loss. In addition, acorns of the red oak have been saved so that they can be planted in the future.