The last big pin oak tree in Cheapside Park came down this week, and there is a dispute about what caused its demise.
Tim Queary, the city's urban forester, said the tree had heart-rot disease and would have posed a danger to visitors to the multiuse iron and glass pavilion that will be built in the space.
But Dave Leonard, a consulting arborist, said Queary couldn't have known there was a rotten spot in the middle of the tree until it was cut down.
The oak could have stood for years if construction work for the pavilion had not doomed it, Leonard said.
George Milligan, the city's streetscape project manager, said the plans called for lowering the soil level at a safe distance from the trunk, and cutting the roots carefully to minimize damage.
"We we were cutting around the tree; we did have some roots that just literally broke off," he said.
The design of the construction project also required that the roots be cut closer to the trunk on one side, Mulligan said.
Lowering the soil level and cutting the limbs too close left the tree "on a big pedestal of soil with roots cut all the way around," Leonard said.
When the issue came before the Lexington Tree Board last week, the board agreed that the tree needed to come down.
Queary and Leonard agreed that pin oaks along Lexington's streets and in parks don't last much longer than 80 years. The species has been dying in great numbers, mostly because of a condition called bacterial leaf scorch.
There once was a line of pin oaks in Cheapside, Queary said.
Leonard, who recalled leaning against the last one many times at Thursday Night Live gatherings in the park, said losing it points to a need for a stronger and better financed urban forestry program. Losing large trees means more storm water runoff and less shade, he said.
The Cheapside pin oak's trunk was saved. Plans call for it to be milled into a bench or bookcase that will be placed in the Lexington History Museum, which is adjacent to the park.
A smaller red oak in the park had the same root treatment, but Queary said he hopes it can be saved. The pin oak will be replaced by a swamp oak, which should last longer and is more disease-resistant.
The pavilion to be built in the park will be home to the Lexington Farmer's Market on Saturdays and other events through the year. Plans call for it to open in early April.