To the Editor:
Recently, PS/IS 217 was put in the unfortunate position of having to remove six trees from our property: one dead tree from the school yard and five trees that were causing problems on the north side of the school. I understand that this has upset some members of our community. I want to assure everyone that this decision was made in the best interests of the safety and health of our students and staff.
By way of background, during one of the school holidays in October, our custodial staff discovered that one of the trees on the school property had fallen and was leaning on the building. We were fortunate that this tree did not cause any injuries or damage to the school. With that discovery, the school custodial staff, working together with the Department of Education, evaluated the condition of all the remaining trees on 217’s property. One of the trees in the school yard had died and, for the safety of the students and staff, needed to be promptly removed. The decision to remove the five additional trees was made because these trees have long presented concerns due to the manner in which they were growing. Specifically, the trees were leaning significantly toward the school building, with many roots growing up and out of the soil.
For many years, the school has been issued violations both by the Fire Department and the Department of Buildings regarding this area due to the roots. Most significantly, the exposed roots had rendered unusable a key emergency egress for the school. From the cafeteria, there are two means of emergency egress which led to the area where these trees stood. The roots presented a significant tripping hazard, particularly for our younger students and, thus, these emergency exits could no longer be used in the event of an evacuation. Rather, in the event of an emergency, students and staff occupying this part of the school would have been forced to walk through the entire length of the school in order to be safely evacuated, which itself could have presented dangers depending upon the nature of the emergency. In addition, the roots were causing the roadway between the school and Manhattan Park to buckle.
There has also been a significant rodent problem in this area, which is also affecting a nursery school program in the neighboring building, which has resulted in several 311 complaints. There were several rat burrows within the roots of the trees. An exterminating contractor treats this area regularly, but the issue has not abated.
The removal of trees is never an ideal solution, but it was one that was needed in this case to improve the safety of our school. The 217 PTA is exploring ways to replace the trees with a species that is more appropriate to that area and will not damage the property. We welcome community input on how to beautify our schoolyard and look forward to working with the PTA and the community to that end.
Principal, PS/IS 217