The old adage ‘all that glitters is not gold’ is true for the expansive American Elm trees that have provided aesthetic beauty to the historic Turlock Unified School District building for several generations but are now the subject of a District project to remove and replace the trees due to interior rot and disease.
Despite their beauty, the 22 American Elm trees that are estimated to be around 50 years old are severely damaged due to a variety of fungi, dry rot and hollow trunks, according to District staff. Diseases have caused branches to dry out and cause potential harm to pedestrians or parked vehicles as they drop from the tree. Dry rot has occurred in several of the branches of the trees, which has the same effect with a nearly 30-foot branch breaking off on May 18 and causing minor damage to the District office. More deceptive are the hollow tree trunks that appear healthy from the outside but are decayed inside thus weakening the entire tree, which can cause damage to landscape and individuals within range of falling debris.
“The public perception is that these trees are beautiful… but if you look closely you can see these large, dark, hollow spots. It’s not just hollow in one place, it is hollow all the way through,” said Scott Richardson, TUSD director of maintenance and operations at the Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night. “We’re talking about a real concern and a risk of liability.”
Due to their location adjacent to the roadway at the intersection of Canal Street and Colorado Avenue, the District intends to eventually remove the trees and replace them with several tree varieties in approximately the same location. The District has consulted with the City of Turlock and is considering selecting trees from the City’s approved Street Tree list which includes the Northern Red Oak, Saw Leaf Zelkova, Blood Good Sycamore and Scarlet Maple varieties. A committee of a variety of stakeholders will be involved in the final selection.
“I take a lot of pride in our trees and we try to save them as much as we can, but when we see this many trees going bad we have to address it,” said Richardson.
However, no changes will be made without the community’s input. Richardson will be compiling informational flyers and intends to host a public forum for community members to express their concerns in the future though a timeline has not yet been set. Trustees suggested Richardson get a third party opinion, as well as consider a landscape firm for the project, that will cost an estimated $22,000 to remove the 22 trees while stump removal will incur additional cost.
“The trees affect the community’s view and although the building belongs to the District, it belongs to the community as well,” said TUSD Superintendent Sonny Da Marto.