[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Chop A Tree, Plant A Tree

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chop A Tree, Plant A Tree

In keeping with the environmental theme of my last post, here's an article on a drive to help save some ficus trees from being chopped down at Coral Way K-8 Center in Miami.

Some "interesting" thoughts to follow the article.

Don't Cut Down Our Trees, School Officials Are Urged

People passing by Coral Way Bilingual K-8 Center Monday must have thought the group standing in front of the school, chanting ''Save Our Trees,'' was confused.

Earth Day wasn't Monday -- it's Tuesday.

But the four dozen students, parents and alumni of the school weren't celebrating Earth Day, or even Arbor Day. They were gathered in front of the school to protest the removal of about half dozen trees.

The Miami-Dade County school district plans to construct two buildings, which would include 32 classrooms and a new media center. Some large trees stand in the way.

The protesters gathered at the school, built in 1936, which sits on seven acres of land at 1950 SW 13th Ave. They demanded that the plans be downsized or the planned buildings moved to save the trees.

Caterina Castellanos, 3, held a sign that read, ``Don't cut down our trees, they are older than my grandmother.''

Her grandmother, Josefina Sanchez-Pando, an 80-year-old former Coral Way Elementary School teacher, said the school's plans should be retooled to protect the massive ficus trees in jeopardy.

''They have space for two buildings,'' she said. ``Go back to the drawing board.''

The plans have already been reduced to save some trees, said Victor Alonso, a design officer with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Two classrooms in one building were eliminated to save a few trees, and six badly-needed parking spaces were canceled to save another two trees, he said.

Alonso said 14 trees were originally considered for removal. That number has now been reduced to six, including two ficus trees -- one with a termite problem.

''If we go any further, it would directly impact the educational quality at this school,'' Alonso said.

After adding sixth, seventh and eighth grades during the last three years, the school is now overcrowded, Alonso said. More than 1,600 students attend the school, which has a capacity of about 900. The school now has 17 portable classrooms on its playing fields, and 200 pre-K and kindergarten students housed in 10 portables at Shenandoah Middle School.

But some said the school board should have planned better when it expanded the school to a K-8 and built a new building about five years ago.

Others said that during a week that includes Arbor Day and Earth Day, the school board should be setting a better example.

School alumnus and neighborhood activist Joe Wilkins said scores of trees have been removed already from the school since he graduated in the 1960s. He shook his head and said, ``Absolutely the wrong lesson.''

My solution to this: chop down the invasive, non-native ficus trees and make the city and/or the school board replace them with mature-sized native shade trees such as Live Oak, Gumbo Limbo or Mahoganies.

Ficus trees, besides being non-native and invasive, have extremely shallow root systems that sprawl very far away from the main part of the tree and break sidewalks, streets, and have even been known to mess up the foundations of buildings. Despite their huge, sprawling nature, they topple like a deck of cards in hurricanes (it's a minor miracle the ones at the school have been around as long as they have). When they come down, they take down power lines and buildings with them.

I understand the attachment to old, large trees. But what good to the environment do ficus trees really do? The real lesson should be in choosing the correct trees to grow in our landscape, not keep the wrong ones.


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