Memorial scheduled for Pion willow

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By Gabriel Vasquez

Sadly, the tree must go.

The iconic willow tree at Piñon Elementary School has caused serious damage to utility lines running from the main building to the kindergarten wing, officials say, and must be uprooted to prevent further costly damage.

“We did come to the conclusion that we’re going to have to take the tree down,” said Kate Thomas, soon-to-be assistant superintendent. “But not without a memorial service.”

A meeting held Monday afternoon to discuss the tree’s fate concluded with a mutual agreement by school officials and community members that the tree had to go.

“Like everybody in the room, I was sorely disappointed that we couldn’t save the tree,” said Heather McClenahan, whose daughter Emily started a petition earlier this month to save the tree. “But everything was handled very well.”

Overall, McClenahan and other community members were pleased with the tone of the meeting and the actions taken by school administrators to correct the communication problem.

“I would just like to say how pleased I am with how the administration has really respected the efforts of the students,” she said. “They haven’t dismissed them, but they have listened to them and tried to work with them.”

Tom Littleton, director of facilities, demonstrated to the public how the tree’s roots are damaging not only heating lines but water and sewer lines as well – problems that would only continue if the tree were left in place.

Steve Waller, the local plumber who originally agreed to undertake the project to correct the problem, agreed with Littleton that removing the willow tree was the only suitable course of action.

New lines must be installed to replace the ones the tree has already damaged.

A “Willow Memorial Brunch” is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Piñon Elementary School to pay tribute to the school icon, and anyone interested is welcome to attend.

Brunch organizers encourage attendees to  bring a dish to share, and take part in fellowship around the tree before it is removed the following week.

Emily McClenahan and a group of her friends have formed a Willow Tree Project Committee to come up with alternatives for the site and possible uses for the wood from the felled tree. Emily was attending a week-long church camp and was unavailable for comment.

The committee will begin its work after the principal’s return July 21.