Originally created 03/13/98

School board votes to remove tree to join elementary schools



The tree has been sentenced to death.

Richmond County school trustees voted 8-1 Thursday to cut down a 92- to 102-year-old oak tree near Lake Forest Elementary School so a new wing can be built to combine the school with Forest Hills Elementary School.

The board also voted, unanimously this time, to close Lake Forest for the 1998-99 term while construction is under way, moving the 110 pupils to Forest Hills. Trustees also voted unanimously to keep the Liberty Church Road area in the Goshen Elementary School zone, erasing plans to move 32 children to the new McBean Elementary School. The new south Augusta area zone does move 170 children from Goshen to McBean.

There was no discussion on the rezoning changes. There were plenty of words about the Lake Forest tree.

The board's vote accepted a bid from CCI Construction to build the consolidated Lake Forest-Forest Hills school for $5.323 million, shaving $2,000 from the original bid thanks to moving the children during construction. Had they voted to redesign the school to keep the tree, the board would have spent $5.463 million.

Trustee Mary Oglesby voted against the bid and argued for saving the tree in a deeply felt speech that had trustees Jeff Annis and Ken Echols rolling their eyes and exchanging looks at one point.

Before she began, Ms. Oglesby apologized to the board "for any embarrassment I may cause you" and asked for leniency while she spoke.

"What is your pound of flesh worth?" Ms. Oglesby began. "The tree is not a human being, it doesn't have blood or a brain or a soul. ... Trees are very valuable to our day-to-day-living. What is a tree's pound of flesh worth? ... This is part of our education and part of our heritage to teach the children to preserve these things."

She pulled items from a basket she had prepared to show trustees what trees provide society, from books to newspapers to fruit to "my favorite -- a golf tee. I wonder how many golf tees we can make from a tree?" Ms. Oglesby said.

When she was finished, Mr. Echols thanked her for the "eloquent presentation," but argued that the tree was dying and was not worth saving. Trustee Kingsley Riley also commended Ms. Oglesby's arguments but added a thought that had many in the room nodding in agreement.

"It's not that some things don't have value, but you have to set priorities," Ms. Riley said. "Trees are beautiful, but schools are not about trees. Schools are about children."

Ms. Oglesby and trustee Barbara Padgett proposed a one-month delay in accepting the bid so they could explore why architects didn't prepare for the tree issue to begin with. But the other trustees voted no and the measure failed 7-2.

As the meeting ended, board President Adna Stein led the room in applause for trustees, who survived the evening without angry words despite a livelier agenda than in recent months.

"I would like to commend the board as to the professional way we conducted ourselves tonight," Mr. Stein said. "We had some strong opinions tonight, but nobody got upset and nobody was shouting at each other."