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Mon, Dec. 16

12 trees gone; project at school playground moves on
Improvements at Humboldt Elementary wipe out trees, for now

The playground at Humboldt Elementary School is undergoing improvements to its drainage, irrigation, ballfield and basketball courts. In the process, workers removed its trees and landscaping. (Sue Tone/Tribune)

The playground at Humboldt Elementary School is undergoing improvements to its drainage, irrigation, ballfield and basketball courts. In the process, workers removed its trees and landscaping. (Sue Tone/Tribune)

The playground at Humboldt Elementary School flooded often enough during heavy rains to be dubbed “Lake Humboldt.” On May 23, the Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD) Governing Board approved Whelcon Contractors and $284,275 to rectify the water issues and make other improvements at its special meeting at Liberty Traditional School.

What the board didn’t do at that meeting was discuss what would happen to the 12 existing playground trees.

Construction on the project began Monday, June 10, six days after HUSD Assistant Superintendent Cole Young left a recorded message on Sandy Geiger’s telephone. Young said Geiger was welcome to come get the trees by Sunday, June 5.

Geiger has been a dedicated volunteer at the school for years, helping former music teacher Bart Brush in the classroom and at concerts, and also founding the school’s garden and habitat areas. When irrigation to the 5-year-old trees broke last year and was not repaired, she dragged a 400-foot hose from her house across the street to make sure the growing trees continued to receive enough water to flourish.

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Workers removed this row of trees on the Humboldt Elementary School playground earlier this month as a drainage and improvement project continues. (Sandy Geiger/Courtesy)

“In the days that followed, I made great effort to save the trees by contacting many resources, but the time was too short,” Geiger wrote in a June 16 letter to Young, Superintendent Dan Streeter, and the board vice president, Rich Adler.

In addition to the trees, Geiger said construction crews destroyed 30 native plants in the habitats on Panda Hill and Hecla Street.

Young acknowledged Geiger’s efforts, saying she “has done amazing things at the school, and was still helping when it came to the garden.”

“I know she has a vested in the field,” he said, adding that the school and district have honored and recognized her contributions. The district was under no obligation to offer her the opportunity to retrieve the trees and bushes, he said, but nonetheless, he did.

Adler, the HUSD governing board vice president, said — as a fellow gardener — he shares Geiger’s pain. Adler has been involved in plans for more than two years as one of many project participants in the school and community, and said he would remain involved.

“The district is absolutely committed to replacing as much of the vegetation, including native vegetation, as possible as part of the project completion. My thought is to invite Sandy to be part of this process,” he said on Friday, June 21.

Geiger said she recognizes the need for playground improvements, and she grieves the loss of the native plants and trees. She wishes the district had provided her with more notice, especially because these plants’ transplant survival rates are better during their dormant time.

“Apparently there has been a planning process with a committee of stakeholders. I had requested information about this process for years, and was not informed until it was too late to revise the plan to include transplanting these trees and plants to other schools, nonprofits, adjacent neighborhoods or the Town of Dewey Humboldt,” she wrote in a June 18 letter to the editor of the Prescott Valley Tribune.

The project plans include replacement with 10 six-foot Rocky Mountain spruce trees, three 1-inch caliper Prairie Fire crabapple trees, 30 five-gallon Old Gold juniper bushes, 51 one-gallon Regal Mist ornamental grass, and 39 five-gallon flowering potentilla (cinquefoil). In addition, the ballfield and playground will be hydro-seeded with 60,200 square feet of Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass and tall fescue turf grass seed mix.

The district is using the last of its 2006 bond proceeds to pay for the project, which will divert water into a culvert that cuts across the field to drain into the town’s water system, Young explained to board members. Four vendors met with him on-site and two companies put in bids. Whelcon submitted a low bid of $248,275 that includes field retention, irrigation and additional improvements.

Young said a clay pipe that traversed the field and connected to the leach line was so old, some smells were leaking out into the community. “And so the thought was to plug that pipe, which then created the pond which now is the issue we are working on.”

The additional improvements come from a prioritized list of projects that include basketball courts, backstops, pathways, and improvement to the infield. Young said the budget wasn’t large enough to cover the entire wish list, and any change orders or overrides also would affect the amount available.

“There is a finite amount of money to work with,” he said, adding that he was very clear with the contractors that the budget was very tight and the district did not have a lot of money for overrides.

He believes the board did its due diligence with the project, hiring the architect and engineer, ADM Group, and Whelcon.

He added that he did consider the scope of work and project’s timeline with the amount of time needed to dig out and box the trees. That would have delayed the project, already a week and a half behind. As is, when school begins Aug. 5, parts of the playground may be roped off to allow time for the newly-planted grass to get established. If there is not enough time, planting may be delayed until later next year, he said.

“The trees are definitely a casualty,” Young said. “That’s not to say the trees were not important, and the time and energy (Geiger put in). Yes, it is a tragedy, but the board felt Humboldt Elementary School needed to do this for the kids, and the outcome will be phenomenal.”

In addition to HES students, the Agua Fria Little League and the Sliders, a travel softball team from of Dewey, use the field. The district charges a use fee for groups and nonprofit organization that helps cover operations and maintenance costs.

Follow Sue Tone on Twitter @ToneNotes. Reach her at stone@prescottaz.com or 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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