In an effort to brighten campus, the Carleton Students Association (CSA) and Student Activities Office (SAO) funded a student-led initiative to light a tree outside of Gould Library. CSA and SAO shared installation costs; they contributed $3975 and $1900, respectively. In total, the project cost $5875.
Maddie Kyhl ’21 came up with the idea to light the campus. “Last winter,” Kyhl said, “I was thinking about how I love seeing the world light up around the darkest time of the year, with lights on trees and buildings, and I wanted to bring that energy to campus.” Khyl contacted the Student Projects Committee (SPC) and the Campus Design Committee (CDC) with the idea for tree lights. Then, with the help of additional SPC members Andrew Farias ’21, Vincent He ’22, Ayasa Michii ’22, Brandon Moy ’20, Binny Onabolu ’23 and Rhesel Rivera ’23, the planning began. “We’ve been working hard on this since last winter,” said Khyl. “It feels amazing to see all of our planning embodied in such a beautiful form!”
The SPC and CDC decided to light a tree outside of the library because of the location’s foot traffic and power source access. Khyl also said that the library is “probably where a little morale boost is needed most.” CDC Chair Stephen Mohring agrees, “I am very happy when we are able to add something to our campus that activates the physical space we engage daily in a way that brings delight and joy.”
According to CSA Treasurer Brandon Moy ’20, the project was more costly than anticipated. Material expenses were high, since “the lights are industrial quality, and thus more expensive than the consumer lights you might find at Target.” According to Moy, cost of labor was also significant, making up a “larger portion of the total cost than the lights themselves.”
To install the lights, Director of Facilities Steve Spehn “hired a landscaping contractor who specialized in lighting trees.” Spehn said “no real short cuts were taken when installing the lights. Two guys with ladders wrapped individual branches over three days.” When asked about maintaining the lights, Spehn responded that the “Grounds Manager will coordinate whatever maintenance is needed with the contractor who installed them.” As of now, the lights are relatively low maintenance. They run on a timer, but can be manually shut off if needed.
Maintenance for the lights could prove costly later on. “We opted to keep the lights in the trees year round to see how that goes, due to costs to remove them each year,” said Spehn. “Other than burned out bulbs, which should not happen for several years, we are a little worried about squirrels chewing on the wires. We have already seen some minor damage. This is sort of a test year with the lights, so we will see how they do.” Moy said that, if the squirrels chew the wire, “we’d either have to repair the line where it’s broken or remove the lights.” In anticipation of this expense, Moy plans on submitting a Spring Allocations request to CSA for the lights’ annual maintenance. Although, Moy said, “it’s difficult to predict whether the lights will need repair next year or not, and if they do, how long, and therefore how expensive, it would take workers to find the break in the line and fix it.”
Thus far, Khyl and Moy report positive feedback to the lights. “There has been pretty good feedback from what I have heard, said Khyl. “People are always surprised when I tell them that I had a part in making it happen because it is such a random addition to campus, but passionate students make stuff happen all the time! This addition just happens to be a spectacle of lights, so it is easy to notice, but passionate students are always working on things behind the scenes to make everyone’s experience better.”
“If students like the lights, we may add a question on the spring CSA ballot asking students if they’d like to add lights to another tree,” Moy added. “Before that, we’ll make sure to collect preliminary student feedback and input on where they’d like new lights. So far, I’ve only heard good things!”
Spehn agrees that expanding the tree light initiative could be a possibility. “I imagine the Committee would want to approve expansion proposals and we would again be looking for funding partners. We will need to evaluate how this first year goes,” Spehn said, “and hope the squirrels leave them alone.”