How Are These Old Trees Causing Controversy In Jackson?
Remember the Dr. Suess story, "The Lorax"? Well this situation surrounding a school renovation project, the Jackson community surrounding it and centuries-old White Oak trees is kind of like that.
You may find yourself wondering, "why does this matter?" Well, it does to many in the community, so much so it could soon cause delay on a $10-15 million project.
Jackson County ISD Receives $10 Million from the State of Michigan
On November 2nd, 2021, the Jackson County Intermediate School District (JCISD) shared that a $10 million grant from the state of Michigan was going to take years off a timeline for a major renovation project of the JCISD's central campus.
For context, according to the release, JCISD had purchased the former Frost Elementary School from Jackson Public Schools (JPS) for $1.
The project, JCISD shared, "helps Jackson County ISD address future facility needs for the county’s special education population, as well as provide many specialized programs and services at one central location."
Plans for the Former Frost Elementary Building
The money for the project, awarded by the state, gave JCISD a bit of a head-start compared to when they were going to start on the building which is to be adapted for special education students, resources, ADA-compliant adaptations, etc.
Part of the multi-million-dollar project's plans also included tearing down nine white oak trees towards the front of the building to re-direct a route for busses to get to the parking lot.
That's where this issue first began as people were not happy about this considering the fact some of the trees were over 200 years old.
According to WILX, the community made their voices heard and it lead to the district re-configuring their plan and getting the total number of trees that needed to be cut down to three.
Now that seems like a compromise, doesn't it?
Depends who you ask.
Jackson Community Arguments Against Cutting Down Three Trees
While it can be appreciated the district hearing out concerns and trying to address them, the problem with these three trees is that, per WILX, two of the three are nearly 300 years old.
Not only is there historical value to these trees, but an ecological one as well, as community member Kathryn Keersmaekers tells MLive they are likely "mother trees."
"If the 290-year-old mother trees are destroyed the entire grove would die in a few years,” she said. "The roots of the mother trees span throughout the grove and interact, and support all the other trees."
Support for keeping the trees comes from community members like Keersmaekers, the Jackson County Michigan Historical Society, the Jackson Audubon Society, and more as reported by MLive.
They even have offered a third solution that would involve a land-swap or yet another restructuring of the bus path.
JCISD Trying to Move Forward With Project
With warmer weather on the way here in Michigan, JCISD knows they are moving into the prime time to get many projects within this massive project done and feel they have exhausted their options when it comes to the debate over the trees.
"I think we’ve done everything we can to look at it,” Jackson County Intermediate superintendent Kevin Oxley told WILX. “I think our board is very deliberative, wanting to be fair to everybody, but also make sure the tax payer dollars available for this project are spent in the best manner possible.”
JCISD, per MLive, has reported there are 35 White Oak trees over 100 years old on its property as well as a neighboring JPS property and they plan to plant 21 new trees along with over 50 shrubs as part of their renovation.
As Oxley also told MLive, getting things moving is "mission critical" which is why the plan is to continue with removing the trees, though WILX reports "part of the motion that passed included hiring foresters as consultants in an attempt to preserve the rest of the vegetation."
At the end of the day, you can really understand when both sides are trying to do the "right" thing and hopefully can come to terms with a solution that can work for everyone. What do you think?
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