The iconic red oak tree that once graced Lanier College & Career Academy at The Oaks has returned home.
In December 2016, the tree — which lived to around 150 years old — was cut down.
Rhonda Samples, executive director of the school that offers nontraditional opportunities to Hall County high schoolers, said at the time that the tree was rotting and posed a safety hazard to the school.
“We nurtured it since the school was built in 2010, and we had an arborist,” she said. “We did everything we could to try to save it.”
The salvaged pieces were transformed by Marty Weck, a Flowery Branch-based artisan, into two benches and a dining room table, which now sit in the school.
“It really did mean a lot to do it,” Weck said. “I think more people will get to see it now. It’s going to be more visible to everyone that goes in there.”
LCCA at The Oaks not only based its name and logo on the sprawling oak — which is actually two trees intertwined — its architecture was designed to curve around it.
Weck said he made the two benches to fit into the curvature of the building’s walls. The pieces of furniture can now be found in the school’s main front hall. The table sits in the center of Bistro at The Oaks’ dining area.
According to the plaque that sits in the school, the campus was once the home and farm of the H.B. Reed Family, as well as the site of Reed’s Produce. Samples said the oak tree was a part of the old farm.
Before the property was obtained by Hall County Schools, the land had been in the Reed family for over 150 years. H.B. Reed served on the Board of Education, and his daughter Brenda taught in the district for over 30 years.
“I just think it’s nice when folks enter the building, that they know the history behind the tree, and that the tree will always be a part of the college and career academy,” Samples said.
Weck’s wife, Angie, who works at West Hall High School, said she was the one who proposed the idea to Superintendent Will Schofield about having her husband work on the project. She passed along Weck’s card, and the rest was history.
“Now the tree will last another 150 years,” she said.
Weck, owner of Weck Design, said his passion for woodworking began at an early age. Instead of asking for toys like most kids for Christmas, power tools stayed at the top of his list.
Weck said the oak tree was taken down by a local lumber company that cut usable slabs of wood.
Because of the density of the giant pieces, Weck said they took around two years to dry.
“It’s quite a process,” he said. “They were laid on the ground and naturally dried.”
Once the slabs were dry, Weck took two weeks to craft both benches and the table.
The inspiration for the objects’ designs were based on the architecture of The Oaks building.
Because the tree’s insides had begun to deteriorate before it was chopped down, Weck said even some of the salvageable parts needed extra care. For those pieces, Weck applied a wood stabilizer, which reinforces weak wood.
“A lot of time rotten parts won’t take in stain or finish; it will soak it in,” he said. “I had to stabilize a lot of the soft wood that started to rot.”
Jeff Jenkins, associate principal of LCCA at The Oaks, said he plans to use the extra pieces of the tree to craft two more benches, a podium and picture frames. Like Weck, he has experience with woodworking.
“It was such a landmark in this community for so many years, and I think it’s important that even though the tree died, we keep it alive for people to experience. It ties our school to the community.”