Trees are not immortal

Trees, like school buildings, do not last forever.

The news that 50-year-old silver maples along Medford's Queen Anne Avenue would be cut down in preparation for rebuilding Roosevelt Elementary School came as a shock to residents of the neighborhood long known for its graceful, leafy canopy. The shock was understandable. The trees, it seemed, had always been there and always would be.

It was also understandable, if unfortunate, that some residents immediately assumed the tree-cutting plans were the result of some dark subterfuge on the part of the Medford School District, still under attack for its handling of the decision to demolish Roosevelt and Jackson elementary schools rather than renovate them.

District officials have borne the brunt of public anger over escalating costs and other issues since voters approved a large bond measure to replace or remodel buildings across the district. Some of that anger was deserved, and district administrators and board members have learned some painful lessons along the way.

But the trees, beloved as they may be, are not part of some conspiracy. They're simply old, and, in the considered opinion of professional arborists, potentially hazardous.

It was unfortunate that some residents were told in a neighborhood meeting in May that only a couple of trees would have to be cut down. When the total turned out to be 13, including the silver maples, cries of "flip flop" quickly arose, along with second-guessing. Couldn't the trees be pruned?

Criticism of public entities is perfectly appropriate, when it is deserved. But when qualified experts say trees have become a hazard, it's best to listen to them. It's worth noting that the city's own arborist concurred with the consultants' verdict.

No one likes to see stately trees cut down. But imagine the public reaction if the district had assumed the trees were healthy and a falling limb had injured a child.

So the trees were felled on Thursday, as sad neighbors looked on. As the limbs were sawed through and tumbled to the ground, many turned out to be hollow — a clear sign of decay and a real threat to anyone walking beneath them.

The good news in all of this is that the trees will be replaced — although not until 2010. As long as the new trees wouldn't hinder construction equipment, replanting now would give the neighbors some solace — and a bit of shade — while they wait for the new school to be completed.

The new trees will be small at first, but — like the students who will attend the rebuilt Roosevelt Elementary School — they will grow.

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