SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 12, 2014

Neighbors up in arms over trees felled for new school

Emergency access road behind city's decision

By Alan Burke
Staff Writer

---- — PEABODY — When the city committed to building a new Higgins Middle School, Christine Pollock realized the complex would be constructed just off her James Street backyard. But she expected the view would be preserved somewhat by a tangle of trees at the edge of the school grounds.

So Pollock was stunned and horrified Tuesday morning when she woke to see virtually every tree uprooted and destroyed.

“I cried,” she said. “I was horrified. I was shocked.”

In her backyard later, she stood on a stone wall, pointing. “We were told they weren’t going to take these trees. I was at the meeting — we all heard this. They were going to clean the brush up. But they took the trees. ... The trees were like a barrier. They were beautiful.”

Mayor Ted Bettencourt sees the value of the trees but says he respectfully disagrees that this came without warning.

“Our plan has been set for several months,” he said. Residents were notified of the process, and three neighborhood meetings were held, he said. “We did exactly what we said we were going to do.”

The trees were cleared because “we need that emergency access road,” he said.

Explaining that he’s spoken with Pollock and two other neighbors upset by the loss of the trees, the mayor expressed sympathy but said things will look better when the greenery starts to be replaced.

“I’m going to work with them personally to come up with a plan that works out for the neighbors,” he said.

Standing, not far from her daughter’s backyard tree house, Pollock said, “No one can repair this. They’re part of our life here. Our backyard. ... My daughter said, ‘Now you’re crying over trees.’ I know. Animals lived in those trees.”

School Committeewoman Beverley Griffin Dunne, who has been the board’s point person on the school construction, visited with Pollock as soon as she heard. Dunne expressed sympathy over the impact, especially in winter when the lack of foliage makes the view look particularly barren.

“It’s really jarring for people to see it,” she said, adding, “we knew some of it was going to go.”

Linwood Construction took the trees to avoid complications during construction, she said.

Whether the James Street residents had been promised that some of the trees would remain is something Dunne will look into. She echoed the mayor’s view, however, explaining that there might have been confusion with a stand of trees farther up the road behind the Little League field. Those have remained untouched.

“Our goal is to lessen the impact as much as possible,” said Dunne. “And it’s very important for us to work closely with the neighborhood.”

Dunne expects new plantings this spring. “We are going to be putting things in that are going to grow rapidly. ... We’re looking to put something else there for a green buffer.” More landscaping will be provided after the building is completed.

A few trees on the Pollock property still screen the view somewhat. With three children, Pollock expects her youngest will one day attend the new Higgins Middle School.

“I’m glad they’re building a new school,” she said. “I just wish it wasn’t here.”

Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.