Century-old trees cut down by Rucker Elementary

Century-old trees cut down by Rucker Elementary

A stand of trees in front of Rucker Elementary School lived
through the Industrial Revolution, the first World Series, the
Great Depression, World War One and the Civil Rights Movement, but
their place in the neighborhood skyline off Masten Avenue came to
an end this week.
A stand of trees in front of Rucker Elementary School lived through the Industrial Revolution, the first World Series, the Great Depression, World War One and the Civil Rights Movement, but their place in the neighborhood skyline off Masten Avenue came to an end this week.

The removal of eight trees on Santa Clara Avenue to make way for a new bus lay-by, an area where students get dropped off, is prompting mixed reactions from nearby residents such as Gina Dew. She empathizes with safety concerns, but says it’s sad to see the natural fixtures cut down. The once towering timbers were present when her aunts and uncles attended Rucker nearly 25 years ago, she said.

The list consists of one conifer, two sycamores, one mulberry, one elm and three eucalyptus trees. The latter category boasts the grandest dimensions, the tallest measuring in around 70 feet in height and 85 to 100 inches in diameter according to Andrew Tope, co-owner of Tope’s Tree Service.

Some of the trees are close to a century old, he said.

James Bombaci, director of facilities for Gilroy Unified School District, explained the eucalyptus “is a non-native, and the most dangerous tree that I know of, as far as limbs cracking. They call them widow makers.”

Site renovations or not, Bombaci noted the trees were going to be removed anyway. Eucalyptus branches frequently break, the roots are shallow, the tree has a tendency to fall over, it’s extremely flammable and “can be very harmful, if not fatal, to children,” he said.

For each tree removed, he pointed out, another one will be planted somewhere on Rucker property to mitigate the loss.

“That’s the right thing to do,” Bombaci said.

He said 20-gallon box tree replacements will likely be mulberry, sycamore and elm.

The $16,700 contract between Tope’s Tree Service and GUSD was approved during the July 21 school board meeting. The project commenced Monday and is funded by Measure P, the $150 million school facilities bond Gilroy voters passed in November 2008.

Crews worked again Tuesday, dangling in the air from harnesses and sending mass bunches of branches through a wood chipper.

“I was shocked yesterday when I drove up and saw them taking it out,” said Dew. “I hate to see the trees go. They’re beautiful.”

This includes one eucalyptus tree within the school’s fenced playground area, a foliage fixture Dew’s oldest daughter, 9-year-old Rucker student Alisia Dew, said “everyone loves.”

Alisia’s grandfather, Jim Dew, said his granddaughter cried when she found out her favorite source of shade was being removed.

Longtime resident Jacque Chesnut, a retired GUSD health clerk of 26 years who’s lived kitty-corner from Rucker since she was three, underscored the clashing of safety vs. nostalgia.

Were it a huge redwood tree, for example, and didn’t pose any threats to schoolchildren, “I’d probably be fighting it tooth and nail,” she said.

Eucalyptus trees, on the other hand, “shed” all year long, and their limbs frequently fall into yards.

Jim Dew reiterated this nuisance, saying neighbors are constantly cleaning up stray eucalyptus brush that blows onto their property.

“It’s sad,” Chesnut agreed, of sawing down the old giants. “They seem to be huge when I was a little girl…but on the other hand, eucalyptus trees are really dangerous.”

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