Officials, Residents Weigh In On 188 Trees Proposed For Removal At Central Middle School

GREENWICH, CT — A public tree hearing was held Wednesday on the proposed 188 trees that need to be removed to accommodate the construction of the new Central Middle School, which is proposed to sit just north of the current building.

Within 10 days of trees being posted for removal, an objection was made by the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, which triggered a public hearing before Greenwich Tree Warden Dr. Gregory Kramer.

During the hearing, the majority of speakers said removing the trees was about ensuring safety and maintaining clear sightlines to adhere to the Sandy Hook statute known as the School Security Infrastructure Criteria.

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Some trees slated for removal are located on and around the iconic rock outcropping on the campus, which is also proposed to be removed. The rock outcropping was a major talking point during the hour and 15-minute hearing.

“We support the removal of the rock outcropping and a number of trees that are near the current entrance of Central Middle School,” Greenwich Police Chief James Heave said. “We totally recognize the concern for minimizing the environmental impact of tree removal on other areas of the campus, however, we would like to endorse the recommendations for the security requirements the state has put forward in building safe schools. We recognize we want to protect the environment as best we can, but in this particular case, we have a concern about the rock outcropping and the number of trees on that.”

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Sgt. Brent Reeves of the Greenwich Police Department, who is also the interim director of security for Greenwich Public Schools, said the rock outcropping creates issues for first responders.

“I can tell you that rolling up on a scene, it’s important to have a very clear line of sight as far as possible so that you can make critical decisions immediately. Additionally, it’s important to have a clear line of sight from the school through the proposed fields, and that rock outcropping would inhibit that and prevent the school administration from being able to monitor students that are in the field,” Reeves said.

Board of Education member Laura Kostin said the district is required to provide a safe school setting.

“I know Dr. Kramer has strongly advocated for the rock outcropping to remain, because, in his words, ‘it provides a sense of place and time,’ The rest of us are really cognizant that we live in a post-Sandy Hook environment, and that grim reality is reflected in many requirements that govern how schools and campuses are designed, including our own,” she said. “There is no natural feature on the site that outweighs student safety. We must heed the advice of those tasked with keeping our children safe.”

CMS Principal Tom Healy is a former student at the school, and he spoke briefly during the hearing in support of removing trees and the rock outcropping.

“The only thing for eight years we have used it for is to shout at kids after school to tell them to get off of it because it does create an issue for them in terms of how they’re behaving around it.”

Greenwich Tree Conservancy Executive Director Katie Dzikiewicz said the group understands the concerns about safety in the new building, but she urged officials to preserve as many mature trees as possible.

She spoke about the benefit of trees, and said they’ve been found to have a calming effect on levels of crime and violence.

Trees also reduce airborne pollutants, Dzikiewicz said, and mature trees provide greater benefits than newly-planted ones.

“We’re not just asking you to save the trees for the sake of the trees, but also for the sake of the students and neighbors as well,” she said.

“Regarding the rock outcrop, we do note it supports some of the oldest and largest trees on campus. We’re confident a consensus may be reached, perhaps involving alternative solutions such as video monitoring or partial removal,” she said.

Earlier in the meeting, Tony Turner, former chair of the CMS Building Committee said there would be additional costs to keep the rock outcropping, even a portion of it.

Stephen Martocchio, who is with SLAM Collaborative, the architects for the project, said a planting plan would add back over 300 trees and 600 shrubs on the 22-acre site.

“Our goal all along has been to balance addressing the landscape regulations but working to replace materials and canopies that are being removed to accommodate the new school building,” added Henry Withers, a CT landscape architect who works with SLAM.

Jude Braunstein, an immediate neighbor to the school, had concerns about newly planted trees staying healthy, and the time it would take for them to reach maturity.

“I understand it takes 10 years before a sapling turns into a full tree, which means those of us to the north are subjected to… a less than stellar view than we have now,” she said. “We all know we moved next door to a school, so we’re not saying we don’t want a new school, we’re not saying we don’t agree that a new school needs to be done or built, but what we are saying is the mitigation, while on paper looks good, I just want to be sure that what we’re getting is what we’re taking away.”

Martocchio said the trees that will be planted will have a caliper size from “small” up to 6 inches.

“There is a two-year warranty that will be part of this project, so that in that early phase… as the sensitive phase or the time at which [the trees] are at most risk, if anything does get lost, it will be replaced,” he said.

Kramer said he will prepare a written final decision on the matter by May 20. The decision will be posted online, and anyone who objects may appeal to the Stamford Superior Court.

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