Students protest plan to build a road through the arboretum

Senior Sammie Jo Fat, a student teacher at Palm Meadow High, collects leaves and fallen twigs for a botany lesson. She loves coming to the arboretum ever since the frequent trips to the arboretumn during Dr. Krempel's botnany class.Rachel Steinhauser//The Miami Hurricane

The Gifford Arboretum is in danger of disappearing again, and this time it’s not a hurricane that’s threatening the presence of this tree sanctuary on campus.

Students and faculty will gather on Saturday at the arboretum to peacefully protest a Coral Gables city ordinance and a university plan that would put a road right through the middle of the garden. The road, which would be constructed in two phases, is part of the University of Miami Campus Area Development (UMCAD) program which was delineated as far back as 2005.

“It would be devastating to see the arboretum paved through,” graduate student Melissa Stillman said.

Phase one of the construction is scheduled to commence this summer and would uproot three arboretum exhibits.

The exhibits “Palms,” “What is a Tree?” and the “Maya Cocoa Garden” would all be displaced, according to a flyer written and distributed by John Cozza, curator of the arboretum. Phase two of construction could also potentially endanger two to four additional exhibits once the plans are completed.

“[The arboretum is] a beautiful thing and a valuable thing to have,” physics professor George Alexandrakis said. “[This road is a] meaningless exercise that only has negative consequences.”

The arboretum was originally planted in 1947 by two botany professors. It was decimated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and again by Katrina and Wilma in 2005. In an effort to rebuild the arboretum, professor Carol Horvitz was given two grants.

According to student government president Lionel Moise, the student government executive board was briefed twice on the status of the project since last year.

“[The university] is not trying to purposely rip out this area,” he said. “I’m confident that the university is going to do everything to have the least impact on an area that students are using and care about, but if this is an issue for students, it’s an issue for student government.”

According to Stillman, not many people know about the road. She only found out about the plans a couple of months ago.

“A lot of [faculty and students] don’t know what’s going on,” Stillman said. “I haven’t talked to one person who agrees with the road construction.”

Arboretum enthusiasts have been trying to work with UM administration to come up with alternate plans for the road that wouldn’t take it through that part of campus.

“With the downturn in the economy, are we supposed to spend our money to pave green spaces?” Alexandrakis said.

The road is part of a city of Coral Gables ordinance that has put a stop to additional university construction projects until they comply with their demands, Stillman said. Since the inception of the plan, the university has been working with the city of Coral Gables in order to come to a compromise.

The protest taking place on Saturday will start at 10 a.m. with a bike ride from Government Center to the arboretum, where John Cuzzo will give a tour and a picnic will take place.

Stillman is also planning to include a “hug the arboretum” event, where students will hold hands to surround the arboretum.

The Miami Hurricane has been requesting to be briefed on the status of the road project since the beginning of the school year but has yet to be granted an interview.

Lila Albizu may be contacted at