School 'icon' may be a thing of the past

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By Gabriel Vasquez

What students, staff and parents have been referring to as an “icon” of Piñon Elementary School has been put on the chopping block.

The 40-something-year-old willow tree still standing in the courtyard of the White Rock school may soon be just a memory.

Its expanding roots now pose a problem to the school’s infrastructure.

“It’s a symbol of our school,” said eighth-grader Emily McClenehan, who now attends Los Alamos Middle School. “Everyone really loves the tree. It means a lot to all the kids.”

McClenehan and a group of about 14 other students staged a protest Monday morning, circling the tree and holding hands as construction crews came to rip it from the ground.

“I just kind of told a bunch of people to show up,” McClenehan said. “Some of them did; some of them didn’t. Now they’re going to postpone the project.”

The tree, now disfigured as a result of preliminary cutting done last week to facilitate its total removal, has been a traditional meeting place for students, and even a learning aid for some science classes.

“The construction crews already chopped the top off of it,” said parent David Shepard. “It’s ugly – miserable. All the students are up in arms about this.”

Shepard expressed concern that parents were not properly notified of the tree’s removal, and said a due process should have been put in place by school officials so community members could explore alternative solutions.

“The point we’re trying to get at is that none of the parents were alerted about this,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any public input or any feasibility plans to find alternative means.”

A local plumber has agreed to repair the damage the tree has already caused, if left standing, McClenehan said. It is unclear at this time as to what specific damage the tree has caused, but school officials say that $15,000 in repairs need to be done to heating and water lines as a result of the trees’ expanding roots.

A statement from Piñon Elementary principal Megan Elizabeth Lee posted on the school’s website reads, “I am saddened to inform you that the Willow tree had to be cut down. Because of its location, it was causing problems to the school property ... I know this is a special tree to the community but hope the school community understands. I have requested that wood be saved from the tree. If you would like to help and/or think of a way to carve the wood into a bench or something please let me know. Thank you for your understanding.”

Kate Thomas, curriculum coordinator for Los Alamos Public Schools, said more information would be available later today, pending a meeting with superintendent James Anderson.

In the meantime, McClenehan and her friends are crossing their fingers hoping there is still a little bit of shade left when school is back in session.