The first tree fell on the morning of Oct. 21, 2022. Staff photo: Asher Darling
During the 2022-23 school year, the Menlo Middle School lost two beloved oak trees. The first tree fell on the morning of Oct. 21, 2022. Director of Dining Services Thien Hoang, who arrived on Menlo’s campus at 4:45 a.m., witnessed its collapse. “While I was walking from my car, I heard a loud crash,” he said. “It felt almost like an earthquake.”
Middle School Director LaVina Lowery was shocked when she received the news that the tree had fallen. “My heart just fell. […] I didn’t think it would go down that soon,” Lowery said. Before that school day began, students and staff members gathered around the fallen tree. At the gathering, Lowery commemorated the oak’s legacy and said goodbye.
On Jan. 13, in the midst of heavy rains and high winds in the bay area, Middle School Mandarin teacher Weixin Shi noticed that another oak tree located on the quad was leaning on an adjacent building. Several classrooms were evacuated before Director of Operations and Construction Loren Arms made the decision to cut down the tree.
While the oaks could no longer serve the Middle School, Menlo plans to repurpose the wood. Kelly Foster, father of freshman Gaby Foster, partnered with Menlo to transform the remains of the trees. Foster developed a passion for milling lumber after a wildfire in August of 2020 damaged his property in Santa Cruz County.
Head of School Than Healy communicated that he was most interested in the possibility of making live edge slab conference tables. “So that’s what we’re going to do,” Foster said. So far, Foster has received the wood from both trees at his mill in Santa Cruz. “The first log that came down in October was a 9,000 pound, 17-foot-long massive coastal live oak,” he said. The second log, which had leaned on the sixth-grade building, was 8,000 pounds of valley oak.
Preparing the oaks to be manufactured into tables will take several years. “The general rule of thumb for drying wood is it takes about a year per inch of thickness,” Foster said. “If I was to cut three-inch slabs, that’s about a three-year wait if left to air dry. Foster’s solar kiln will allow him to substantially speed up that process.
Foster also hopes to create one or two benches, which would take less time to develop. He hopes these projects help the Menlo community cope with the loss of trees. “It’s sad to see heritage oaks hundreds of years old come down like that,” Foster said. “But I think everyone should be excited about making something special from those amazing trees.”
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