Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Trees vs. Astroturf

One of our local high schools, City High, revealed this week that it plans to cut down over fifty trees, many of them decades-old shade trees. The school is installing artificial turf on one of its practice fields, and, although the offending trees are not themselves on the practice field, they “are either berry producing or drop significant amounts of material which would shorten the life of the artificial surface.” Thus “it has been determined” that the trees “must be removed.”

Cutting down dozens of living trees to protect “the life” of an artificial turf field strikes me as crazy. They’ve apparently marked every tree anywhere near the field, making no attempt to single out trees that are likely to be particularly harmful. (Despite the reference to berries, many of the trees are beautiful maples.) The trees also border several private residential properties (not my own, though I live nearby), so the clear-cutting approach doesn’t qualify as good community relations, either. The school’s “hope” is to replace the trees with “some sort of planting . . . that would reestablish the living barrier that our neighbors have enjoyed in the past.” Since minimizing expense is apparently all that matters, here’s my guess:

Those who want to object should email Assistant Principal Terry Coleman (, Principal John Bacon (, Superintendent Steve Murley (, and the school board (


Doris said...

Thanks so much for the heads up about this situation, Chris. Incredibly depressing news. I have forwarded this blog post to several people I know in an effort to help spread the word. I wonder if the people in charge of this decision to use astroturf knew from the get-go that the trees would be sacrificed.

Chris said...

I protested to the officials I listed in the post, and specifically asked three questions:

1. The letter to neighborhood residents said that "it has been determined" that the trees "must be removed." Can you tell me who actually made this decision?

2. When are the trees scheduled to be cut down?

3. Can you tell me the estimated cost of leaving the trees intact, in terms of shortening the duration of the artificial turf? By contrast, can you tell me the estimated cost of cutting the trees down and replacing them with alternative plantings as described in the letter?

I'll post the high school principal's response in a separate comment below.

Chris said...

The principal's response:

Dear Chris,

Thank you very much for your message. I respect your point of view and understand how you feel. Shive-Hattery, an engineering firm, is planning this project for us. I will convey to Shive-Hattery and the general contractor that our expectation is that they will use great discretion in determining which trees must come out. I will ask them to make sure they remove only what is necessary to prevent excessive foliage from dropping on the new field. We experienced a similar situation when we had to remove trees on our front lawn three years ago for a parking lot project. After that project we were able to significantly enhance the front lawn by actually adding quite a number of trees beyond what was lost.

This project is important to our school because it will provide our students with a safe, quality surface that will be used for a great many activities. Currently, our grass practice fields are in poor condition due to a high degree of overuse, and there is no other place for us to go. Synthetic grass will solve this problem.

To answer your specific questions:

1. The letter to neighborhood residents said that "it has been determined" that the trees "must be removed."

Can you tell me who actually made this decision?

This decision was made in consultation with the architectural firm of Shive Hattery and the general contractor who is installing the synthetic surface. The trees of most concern are the berry producing trees that are quite prevalent in the north portion of our property.

2. When are the trees scheduled to be cut down?

The project is scheduled to begin the week of August 20th. Although an exact date for any tree removal has yet to be set, it would be fairly early in the process.

3. Can you tell me the estimated cost of leaving the trees intact, in terms of shortening the duration of the artificial turf? By contrast, can you tell me the estimated cost of cutting the trees down and replacing them with alternative plantings as described in the letter?

We will be getting an 8 year warranty on the field and have been told that most fields will last up to 12 years before needing to have the surface replaced. The cost of replacing the entire surface is approximately $500,000. Obviously we want it to last as long as possible and keeping plant material off the field is one factor in extending the life of the new field. Mr. Coleman led a planting effort on the City High front lawn two years ago that planted over 40 trees, shrubs, and grasses at a cost of approximately $8,000. We have worked with local master gardeners and state forestry personnel on past projects and would plan to do so with this one as well.

In closing, we completely understand and empathize with your concern. We too take great pride in the foliage that surrounds City High and have worked to enhance this on many occasions. It is our strong desire to be good neighbors and do what is right. We also have to balance these concerns with the needs of the project. In the past we have been able to satisfy both project needs and environmental needs and we will make every effort to do so on this project as well.

Thank you.

Chris said...

The key fact from the principal's response: the trees will start coming down four days from now.

As for whether my other two questions were answered, readers may judge for themselves.

So far, not a single school board member has responded.

Incidentally, the district has scheduled an open meeting for public input on its landscaping. The meeting is scheduled for August 20 at 5 pm -- will there be any trees still standing by then?

Chris said...

My most recent exchange with the principal on this issue:

From me:

Thanks for the quick response. I appreciate knowing the date when the trees will be cut down, but I'm still not getting a clear sense of just what the estimated cost of leaving the trees intact would be (in accelerated depreciation of the turf?) and of who exactly is responsible for making this decision (always the hardest piece of information to extract, it seems).

Most importantly, the markings on the trees make it very clear that the contractor has not made any effort to use discretion in selecting which trees to cut. What is the rush to cut these trees down? Is there any reason to think that allowing them to stand for even a month or two, to have a more considered public discussion of their removal, will have any significant affect on the artificial turf?

His reply:

Hi Chris. We communicated today with Shive Hattery and asked them to re-assess the trees that need to come out. We asked them to really scale it back if at all possible. I believe we will see fewer trees removed. My understanding of timing is that they need to do it on the front end of the project as it will be difficult to get equipment/truck in there after the turf field is in place. In terms of whose decision it is, I requested the project, the Board passed the project, and Shive Hattery included this as part of the design/plan. Again, I have asked them to make every effort to reduce what they have to take out. They will reassess, and we'll see what they come up with. Thank you.

My reply:

Thanks, I appreciate that. I still find it hard to believe that leaving the trees there would make much of a difference in terms of long-term cost, and it doesn't sound like anyone has actually quantified the cost, or considered whether keeping the trees might actually be worth a little cost. But if they could reduce the total number of trees cut down, that would be an improvement. Are they using any kind of criteria about what trees to mark?

Chris said...

Email follow-up from the principal:

I'll check in with them and ask how they will determine this. I am not sure. I appreciate your interest in this- it is also very important to me to be good stewards of this beautiful neighborhood. This is my home and I love it dearly. I want to do the best we can on this.

Tree Pruning Brooklyn said...

Its a tad ridiculous that there was no petition by students or faculty or even a vote of it all to decide the end product. They don't look like they're withering away or completely dead at all, they look like aged oaks and thats what this green earth is all about. Messed up news, I'm sorry for the students.

-Carlos Hernandez

Chris said...

Thanks, Carlos. There's still a chance the school system might reconsider the decision. I'll post with updates as I have them.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Chris: I was running around the City High track this morning (well, jogging, v-e-r-y slowly) when I noticed a man in a suit up near the stand of trees designated for demolition. I went up and introduced myself. It was Terry Coleman, asst. principal. He seemed happy to chat and answer my questions. This might change, but he said he was going to ask the contractor to come back and remark the trees that will be cut down using a new color, and then he said he would send a note to the neighbors asking them to come take a look. In his view, the fruit-bearing trees (mostly clustered on the end near the track) would still need to be cut down, but others might just need to be pruned.

I told him that given my own druthers they'd find a way to avoid the astroturf but that I certainly appreciated their efforts to try to preserve as many trees as possible.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- Thanks for the report -- that's great news.

I'll post more updates as they come...

Chris said...

From the principal:

I wanted to give you the update on our tree situation. This morning school representatives walked the site of the upcoming synthetic turf project with the architects in charge of the project design. We take seriously the concerns of our community and have significantly altered the planned tree removal. Trees to be removed (now marked with a pink circle around the orange X) fall into one of three categories:

1. Trees that are berry producing (primarily hackberry)
2. Trees that are too close to the outer boundary of the field for student safety
3. Trees and supporting root structure that are in the construction area of the project
4. Trees that are dead or dying

The trees to be removed amount to a total of 18.

The remaining trees will either be unaffected (only orange X remains) or will need to have over hanging branches trimmed (marked with pink flagging tape around the trunk) because they extend over the playing surface. There are 31 trees that fall into these two groups that will not be removed. We are very pleased and this is much better than the original plan!

I invite you to visit the site and provide any feedback to me. We have always valued the relationship that we have had with the City High community and hope that we can continue the positive working relationship with our neighbors.

Thank you!

Chris said...

I think that's about as happy an ending as we're going to get. I still think it's a shame that any trees have to go for the sake of artificial turf (many of the trees still marked are the largest ones), but I do give the principal a lot of credit for his willingness to take a second look at the situation, and to take the neighbors' concerns into account.

One correction: Earlier I wrote (from memory) that many of the trees are maples, but in fact very few of them are. (The maples start a bit further to the west.) Instead it's a real mixture of tree types, including many tall trees that provide a lot of shade. It's definitely going to look and feel very different after the cutting.

Doris said...

Hi, Chris--I'm the anonymous runner. Sorry. I should try typing as slowly as I run. Then maybe I'd get my named typed before I click on "publish."

Agree, it would be wonderful if they could come up with some other solution for the overuse problem besides astroturf. I can understand why the principal felt himself to be faced with a shortage of workable options, though, and certainly it does seem to me that the City HIgh administration has done itself credit in how they've responded to you. Instead of getting all defensive, they readily acknowledged the validity of what you had to say and then took concrete steps to find a compromise.