Residents alarmed at plan to cut down trees at Lady's Island Elementary

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMarch 28, 2013 

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Exposed tree roots spread out across one of the playgrounds at Lady's Island Elementary Wednesday afternoon behind the school. In some areas root growth is causing playground turf to crack. The school is considering chopping down some of the trees because of safety concerns.

SARAH WELLIVER — Sarah Welliver Buy Photo

A decade ago, when Shelia and Greg Bennett's daughter was a student at Lady's Island Elementary School, they helped plant almost a dozen shade trees on the playground.

"You had all these little kids running around there, very hot and sweaty and dirty," he said.

Parents, students, teachers and local businesses teamed up for the project. Some children even collected pennies during lunch to pay for the trees, Greg Bennett said.

So when they heard the trees might get cut down, the couple became alarmed and started rallying support and asking questions.

"Why can't we just keep the trees?" said Shelia Bennett. "For me, they're educational and provide shade for the kids instead of just a deck with a tarp."

Twenty-one trees are being considered for the axe, including several gumball trees near the playground, Beaufort County School District facilities director Robert Oetting said.

Oetting said roots are popping through the soil in the play area -- a tripping hazard for children at play. The roots might also damage the thick, black rubber mats around the play equipment.

No decisions have been made, however, and officials are talking with those bothered that the district might cut down the trees, according to Oetting.

But Shelia Bennett said she would prefer this be aired in a public meeting because none of the parents she has spoken with knew what the school is considering. She heard about it by word of mouth, when someone told her it was mentioned during a school meeting.

The family helped with the planting and stopped by to water the saplings every other day for years.

"When we planted those trees back then, the teachers used them for class for science to teach about photosynthesis," said Shelia Bennett. "And those kids were so respectful of the trees."

If a tree is a hazard, then it should be cut down, she added. But not all of them have to go, and the reasons for tree removal should be clear. She wants to look into ways to bulk up the ground with mulch or sand to protect the roots and negate problems as much as possible.

"If it looks like it's going to cause a problem with their very expensive rubber pad they put down, then yeah, that has to go," Bennett said, "but leave the rest of them alone."

Oetting said the school district would comply with county regulations for cutting trees.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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