An arborist’s report on the condition of trees at a Florida elementary school underscores the need for school districts to conduct regular safety inspections of their school campus grounds.
The May 25 report by Clearwater arborist Loren Westenberger identifies three hazardous trees on the parklike campus of Safety Harbor Elementary School that need to be removedand dozens of others around the playground, walkways, and courtyard that need immediate attention.
The three trees that should be removed are severely decayed. One of those three, a chinaberry, produces a poisonous berry that can be lethal to humans, according to a horticulturalist at the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension.
Westenberger inspected the campus free of charge after being asked by a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Association. He estimated the work would cost $22,965.
“They’re in bad shape,” Westenberger said. “Most of the danger is from dead wood falling in high traffic areaswalkways, playgrounds, parking areasand on a school, it’s pretty much the whole site.”
The issue of the health of the trees came up in early May when the PTA was discussing campus beautification, said president Kathy Frid, who has a first-grade son at the school. There was concern about one tree in particular, a laurel oak near the bus driveway that has had problems with termites.
Frid said at times the tree has been swarming with termites when children are passing by.
Principal John Day said he hopes the district will replace those trees that need to come out. That includes the laurel oak with the termites and a second decaying laurel oak in the south courtyard that hangs over picnic tables. The third tree is a chinaberry, a non-native tree that Westenberger identified as high risk for structural failure.
Besides the structural integrity, the chinaberry should be removed because its berries are poisonous, said Bob Albanese, a horticulturalist at the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension. He cited a University of Florida publication that reported a young girl in India died after eating six to eight ripe chinaberries, which are about the size of a maraschino cherry, Albanese said. “It probably shouldn’t be in a school yard,” he said.