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Radio personality Gino Salomone wanted to know what was up at Mount Mary University. (PHOTO: Gino Salomone)

Why were the Mount Mary University pine trees cut down?

If, like me, you're one of the folks that is blessed enough to be able to enjoy the lovely grounds of Mount Mary University along the Menomonee River Parkway on Milwaukee's far west side, you may have been surprised to see portion of it undergoing drastic change this week.

A wooded site at the north end of the campus, along Burleigh Street, is being cleared to make way for a new $45 million housing development – by Mount Mary, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province and Milwaukee Catholic Home – that will offer intergenerational living for sisters and seniors, as well as supportive housing and education for students at the university who are single mothers.

Thus, the site is no longer wooded.

Radio personality Gino Salomone noticed and posted about it on social media.

"Almost every day, I would walk through the quiet and beauty of a pine forest at Mt. Mary College," he wrote. "The majestic trees that were around for who knows how many years are gone."

According to a fact sheet provided by Mount Mary spokeswoman Kathleen Van Zeeland, about 300 trees are being cut down to make way for the building, and 225 of them were non-native Scotch pine trees that were found to be diseased and "reaching the end of their life.

"A processor and chainsaws are being used to remove the trees. This method is consistent with best management practices standards set by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The removal process will take four days followed by two weeks for wood chipping and stump-grinding."

Scott Kerner Tree Service has been hired to do this work.

The fact sheet notes that some of the pines will be recycled.

"The pine trees will be transported to paper mills in Kaukauna to be repurposed. The remaining hardwood trees will be used for various purposes. The boards from several trees will be integrated into the design of interior walls for our new buildings, including bur oak, sugar maple, hickory, elm, ash and pine. The remaining lumber will be sold and used for saw logs and other construction.

"These trees have been – and remain – a valuable resource to our campus environment and they will continue to contribute to the good of all."

Once construction of the new building is complete, new trees will be planted around it, the sheet notes.

A 10-acre forested site to the east of the construction zone, Mount Mary says, "will not be affected. This area includes a high-quality second-growth southern mesic forest. This type of forest, with soaring canopy trees and great biodiversity, is rare in Milwaukee County and a treasured campus resource."

Additionally, the construction plan includes other environmental projects to mitigate the loss of the wooded area, including 6,000 square feet of rain garden plantings, a retention pond to minimize runoff, native plantings integrated throughout the campus and, thanks to a grant from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, the installation of porous pavers in the parking lots.

On Thursday, Salomone spoke with university officials and updated his post:

"I sincerely believe that they did everything they could to avoid cutting these trees down," he wrote. "Many of these trees were not healthy and they were able to save a great deal of the forest."

Some of the residents of the new building will be sisters relocating from their Eugene Liebert-designed home in Elm Grove, which is being redeveloped.

According to Mount Mary, "In 2018, the School Sisters of Notre Dame of the Central Pacific Province voted to move their residence from Notre Dame of Elm Grove to a residence that will serve the needs of the sisters.

"Subsequently the Provincial Council formally adopted this recommendation and moved forward with plans to build on the Mount Mary University campus. One hundred sisters currently live at Notre Dame of Elm Grove and approximately 100 additional sisters live throughout the Milwaukee community; many of them will have the opportunity to move to the new facility."

The building is expected to be ready to welcome them by October 2021.


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