SPRINGFIELD – After over a century of serving as iconic landmarks, the massive maple trees planted in front of the historic former school building at 525 Mill St. hit the ground on Tuesday, July 18.
According to building architect Jenna Fribley, who is the co-founder of Campfire Collaborative Architecture and Design, the two trees were structurally compromised and fell on their own.
The old schoolhouse is in the process of renovation in partnership with owner Ben Bazer and Campfire Collaborative.
The team took the time to examine the trees at the start of the project in fall of 2022. A video shared by Fribley shows a rod being placed through the base of the trees, demonstrating that the trees are completely hollow.
After discovering that the trees were structurally compromised, the renovation team discussed potentially removing them professionally.
However, nature beat them to it.
Through their own free will, on a balmy 90-degree Tuesday, the trees splintered, with limbs hitting a few windows of the historic former Springfield High and the District building on their way down.
Since 1885, the maple trees have served as a historic marker for the Mill Street building. In the early 20th century, the school yearbook for Springfield High School was informally known as “The Maple Leaf,” naturally as a reference to the prominent trees, Fribley said.
Now, the initial plans for the transformation from school to 35 education-inspired loft and one-bedroom apartments have shifted dramatically.
The project is listed for sale as the high interest rates and unexpected cleanup from the fallen trees have resulted in a more tedious and expensive project. While Campfire Collaborative is continuing to move forward with the design plans as of now, the expected completion date of Spring 2024 is likely off the table.
Despite these setbacks, Fribley is determined to see the project to completion.
“We are very committed to seeing this project through… it’s important to us that this building does not sit vacant,” Fribley said.
Keeping the original integrity of the building is crucial to Fribley. Originally, the design plans included recycling the lumber from the maple trees into benches, doors, and desks; however, the wood from the fallen trees is not as durable as Fribley and her team anticipated.
Yet Fribley is still determined to incorporate the trees into the charm of the building. She has been circulating the idea of using a letterpress print over a small cross section of bark to potentially create signage or another aesthetic piece that symbolizes the important history of the building. Fribley also collected helicopter seeds from the Maples before they fell.
The future of 525 Mill St. is unclear as of now. With the maples left fractured and nearly toppled over, some may say the building has lost a piece of its historic charm.
The story of the maple trees will live on. Fribley revealed the long-term goal is to plant new trees and begin a new chapter of the building’s legacy.