Sometimes a chance meeting leads to multiple connections, with wonderful results. In the early fall of 2021, Nick Brinen, James Madison University (JMU) Professor of Architectural Design, and Jeremy Harold, Harrisonburg’s Greenspace Manager and Urban Wood Program Coordinator happened to cross paths and chat about a project idea. The result was an amazing collaboration on a very meaningful project…and the birth of a university urban wood program.
Prior to this meeting, Professor Nick’s Architectural Design class was asked if they could design and build a bike storage shed for the JMU Occupational Therapy Clinical Educational Services (OTCES). JMU’s OTCES is both a teaching program and a rehabilitation therapy laboratory, where the staff helps small children learn their motor skills after devastating events like accidents and strokes. One of their therapies involves having the young patients both ride and repair bicycles. Before this project, the therapy bikes were stored haphazardly in the OTCES lab area and there were no adequate repair stations. The JMU students warmly embraced this project, making it their capstone project for the Spring 2022 semester. Known as the “Design Build Dukes,” the class split into teams to work on the various aspects of this project.
During their first meeting, Nick mentioned this project to Jeremy, who immediately offered wood that was milled from some Harrisonburg urban ash trees that were killed by the invasive emerald ash borer (EAB). Sadly, Harrisonburg has had to remove over 1,100 EAB-killed trees from public property over the past three years. From the very beginning of the Bike Shack project, both Jeremy Harold and I were asked to serve as technical advisors for the project. We provided suggestions for alternative designs and improved material use. After many weeks of design modifications and construction, the bike shack was revealed and dedicated in early May, at the end of the spring semester. JMU’s OTCES was the proud owner of a bike storage unit complete with a repair station and the tools needed for bicycle adjustments and repair.
Additionally, the City of Harrisonburg, the Virginia Department of Forestry, Cootes Store Farm and Sawmilling, and KnochedVA (a local urban wood company) collaborated on a half-day urban wood workshop for Professor Nick’s class. Harrisonburg urban ashwood was also provided to JMU Professor Kevin Phaup’s Industrial Design class for their wooden bicycle projects. Additional connections were also made with JMU Professor Audrey Barnes, whose fall 2022 Industrial Design class will be making percussion instruments from Harrisonburg’s urban wood resources. All three of these professors and the JMU fabrication lab have embraced the idea of utilizing local, urban wood materials. Trees that used to go to the tub grinder at the landfill now have new life as useful and beautiful products.