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Samford Park at Toomer's Corner

Landscape Performance Benefits

Environmental

  • Infiltrates up to 32,000 gallons of stormwater through a permeable paving system.
  • Reduced soil contamination by the herbicide Tebuthiuron from 68 parts per billion to undetectable levels through the removal of 1,778 tons of contaminated material.

Social

  • Helps secure the traditions of Auburn University for future generations according to 100% of 31 survey respondents.
  • Improves the connection between downtown and campus according to 100% of 31 survey respondents.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Holcombe Norton Partners, Inc.

  • Project Type

    Park/Open space
    School/University

  • Former Land Use

    Park retrofit

  • Location

    Samford Park
    Auburn University

    Auburn, Alabama 36849

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  • Climate Zone

    Humid subtropical

  • Size

    1 acre

  • Budget

    $900,000

  • Completion Date

    2014

Samford Park at Toomer’s Corner, a celebrated 1-acre park on Alabama’s Auburn University campus, is home to one of the university’s most beloved traditions: rolling 2 large live oak trees with toilet paper following a victory in an athletic competition. In 2010, a fan from a rival team administered a systemic herbicide in extreme doses to the live oaks, resulting in their death and removal and the contamination of large areas of soil in the park. The redevelopment of Samford Park sought to remove the contaminated soil and ensure the continuation of a time-honored tradition while simultaneously anchoring the gateway to the university in the heart of downtown. The addition of seat walls, permeable paving, and an enhanced threshold under the historic gateway creates a space that entices people to pause and admire the campus’s Victorian architecture before continuing into campus or downtown.

  • Several feet of soil were excavated and replaced; a total of 1,778 tons of contaminated soil and other material was removed from the park and disposed of.
  • 3,900 sf of permeable pavers, set upon a 24-in gravel base layer, provide storage for stormwater which slowly infiltrates back into the soil. The addition of permeable pavers reduced impervious surface from pre-renovation conditions by an estimated 90%. The permeable paving also serves as a fire lane for the campus.
  • An underdrain below the main walk captures any subsurface accumulation and directs water to a test well for monitoring of the herbicide used in the 2010 poisonings.
  • 140 modular structural soil cells provide the strength to handle the loads inherent to the area while ensuring uncompacted soil for good tree growth underneath pathways and seat walls.
  • Thousands of square feet of impermeable remediation liner was installed along utility lines where excavation was not feasible in order to prevent any remaining contamination from migrating.
  • Two 14-in DBH live oaks were planted to replace the poisoned originals and to continue the tradition of the rolling of the oaks after an Auburn University sporting victory. 
  • The historic brick portals were left in their original location, and a new granite threshold inscribed with a quote from the Auburn Creed was added between them.
  • Seat walls surround the corner and are topped with granite caps with a non-slip finish for durability and safety.
  • LED lighting illuminates the seat walls, historic brick gates, and the live oaks so that the space caters to the nightlife that accompanies the intersection.

Challenge

The redesign of the Toomer’s Corner section of Samford Park needed to respond to several different problems simultaneously: reintroducing 2 live oaks, addressing the contaminated soil, and preserving the university’s traditions. Additionally, soil compaction due to high volumes of pedestrian foot traffic and emergency vehicle access threatened the establishment and longevity of the new oaks. The preservation of gates installed by the Class of 1917 and eagle statues installed by the Class of 1939 was critical to maintaining the park’s historic integrity. A stronger visual connection between campus and the downtown core was also a design goal. Furthermore, construction scheduling and logistics were challenging given the location of the park’s corner at the city’s most heavily trafficked intersection, which is also a prime area of campus.

Solution

The healthy integration of 2 new live oaks as well as all other vegetation was made possible by the excavation and replacement of several feet of soil. The installation of a modular suspended pavement system addressed the concerns with future soil compaction and, with the addition of permeable pavers, created a storage system for stormwater. The gates were kept in place and judiciously worked around during the excavation and permeable paver installation. The gates were then fitted with a new granite threshold bearing a portion of the Auburn Creed. Creating a stronger connection to the downtown was achieved by matching the permeable pavers to those being simultaneously installed in a separate, but linked, downtown renovation project. The connection was also secured by maintaining sightlines between historic campus buildings and those along the downtown core, with the upgraded corner serving as a place for one’s eye to transition from one space to the next. To overcome issues surrounding scheduling and logistics, demolition, excavation, and construction were set to begin and end during the summer when the student population would be at its smallest and no major downtown activities were planned. Summer construction ensured that the process had as little impact as possible on student movement to and from campus from the downtown core, vehicular traffic, and economic impact for downtown businesses. 

The 2 oaks at Toomer’s Corner were the centerpiece of one of the most beloved and long-lasting traditions of Auburn University. The 2 trees are rolled with toilet paper by students, fans, and community members after every game won by the football team, as well as major divisional or rivalry wins in other sports and celebratory events. This tradition, which dates back to 1972, faced an immense struggle in 2010. A disgruntled fan of Auburn University’s in-state rival, the University of Alabama, admitted on a radio show to dumping Spike 80DF, an herbicide for total vegetation control, around the Toomer’s Oaks in late November 2010. Auburn University immediately began testing the soil around the oaks and found lethal doses of the herbicide ranging from 0.78 parts per million up to 51 parts per million. These doses are well above the recommended dosage labeled on the herbicide bottle, and even a normal dosage could cause substantial damage to the trees, which were estimated to be more than 130 years old.

Representatives from Dow Chemical, manufacturer of the herbicide, as well as horticultural experts, professors and staff within the university worked together to formulate the best action for extracting the chemical. The removal process included the digging of trenches and application of activated charcoal to absorb the herbicide and prevent its travel to other parts of the Corner. The herbicide did spread in some areas and began to kill trees and turf in close proximity to the Toomer’s oaks. A lawsuit followed, and the culprit was sentenced to 6 months in prison and ordered to pay close to $800,000 to Auburn University for his actions. A ‘Final Rolling’ ceremony was held in April 2013, and the trees were removed after showing significant decline. With the plans for Samford Park Phase 1 moving forward, the contaminated soil was excavated and removed from the Corner and new soil was brought in to make way for the new oaks. On February 14, 2015, the 2 new oaks from Ehrhardt, South Carolina, were planted at Toomer’s Corner as the last part of Phase 1 of Samford Park. After an appropriate establishment period, the new oaks were allowed to be rolled in the fall of 2016, ensuring the continuation of an irreplaceable tradition that is uniquely Auburn. 

Because of the tradition surrounding the trees, large replacement trees were required, even though they cost an estimated 20 times more than smaller alternatives. Younger trees would have had the benefit of being less expensive, in the range of $200-$400 per tree, but would not yet have the strength, size, or rigor to survive campus activities. The 14-in caliper trees, estimated to cost $5,000-$7,000 per tree, would be able to take the activities sooner and provide Samford Park with shade, so the university made the decision to invest in larger replacement trees.

  • Replacing the poisoned trees and other vegetation, as well as the compacted and contaminated soil throughout the corner, was a daunting task. A new paving system was needed to accommodate heavy traffic of both pedestrians and service vehicles during all times of the year. Moving away from standard paving options and choosing the modular suspended pavement system - the first such installation in the state - created conditions for the iconic trees to thrive while preventing soil compaction. The project also served as a model for future modular suspended pavement system installations on campus.

Suspended pavement: DeepRoot Silva Cells and Deck
Soil: CU Structural Soil
Root barriers: DeepRoot Root Barrier
Impermeable remediation liner: Dura-Skrim R2022
Permeable pavers: Pine Hall Brick “Storm Pave”
Irrigation: Rain Bird

Project Team

Landscape Architect: Holcombe Norton Partners, Inc.
Preliminary design and Master Planning: Nelson Byrd Woltz, jB+a
Contractor: JA Lett Construction, LLC
Environmental Consultant: Applied Aquaculture and Environmental Technologies
Tree Removal: JLD Enterprises, LLC
Soil Testing: Alabama Pesticide Residue Laboratory
Herbicide Consultant: Dow AgroSciences
Landscape Consultant: Auburn University Department of Horticulture
Consultant: Auburn University Facilities Management
Communications: Auburn University Office of Communications and Marketing
Safety: Auburn University Risk Management and Safety

Role of the Landscape Architect

A landscape architecture team provided preliminary design concepts and public outreach support during the master planning phase in the early stages of the project. Those concepts were further developed in design and construction by the landscape architect of record.

Case Study Prepared By

Research Fellow: Charlene LeBleu, FASLA, AICP, Chair of Landscape Architecture, Auburn University
Research Assistant: Britton Garrett, MLA Candidate, Auburn University
Research Assistant: Ryan Bowen, MLA Candidate, Auburn University
Firm Liaison: Tommy Holcombe, Principal, Holcombe Norton Partners, Inc.
August 2016

Topics

Permeable paving, Trees, Restoration

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