Ingraham HS Stages Pep Rally to Cut Down Trees

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

On Tuesday night at Ingraham High School in North Seattle, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) held a public meeting on the Ingraham construction project. As you know, Save the Trees – Seattle and others in the community are opposed to the Seattle School District cutting down 68 trees in a grove on the west side of the High School when other locations exist on the campus where the addition can be built without cutting down any large trees.
The trees to be cut are the 100 foot tall 75 year old Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific madrone trees in the distance in the picture. The grassy area in the foreground is one place Save the Trees – Seattle says the new addition could be built, saving any large trees from needing to be cut down. The Ingraham High School master plan actually says this open lawn area is where a future addition could be built an Ingraham. Why not now?

Many neighbors and others turned out to support saving the tree grove and to urge that the project be moved. There was also a very large contingent of vocal students and parents and teachers frustrated by their long standing grievance of classes being held in rundown mold infested portables for too many years.

The Principal at Ingraham stated that he made a concerted effort to turn out students and parents and teachers to support the project. With his encouragement the students basically staged a pep rally for the project. This was not unexpected considering what they have had to put up with in a substandard learning environment.

Those opposed to needlessly cutting down the trees on a campus, which at 28 acres is the largest in the Seattle School District, sympathized with the frustration of the students and parents and teachers who for too many years have been forced to take classes in substandard portables that are in terrible shape and have mold. Teachers and students complained of getting sick. Some of the portables house special needs students but do not have running water or bathrooms.

The Seattle School District has let the situation get out of control and is now trying to make the neighbors the villains for their negligence. The Seattle School District’s approach has been to deny they have any responsibility for delaying the project and blame neighbors who love trees more than students as what is preventing the project from going forward

But Save the Trees – Seattle and the neighbors support the long overdue upgrading of the classrooms. We are not, however, the villains just because we also don’t want to needlessly destroy a unique urban forest when viable alternatives exist on the campus for building elsewhere. One location we suggested was the North lawn area which Ingraham actually picked as the site if a future addition was to be built after the current project.

It is rather ironic that the Ingraham Master Plan produced as part of this project can propose building on this North lawn location in the future but it is somehow not possible to build there now and spare the grove of trees. They are serious enough about retaining the North lawn area for a future addition that in the current proposal it is the only area on campus where they do not propose planting trees.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Not upgrading or maintaining the school in a responsible way for students and teachers in the past and proposing to cut down 68 Douglas fir, Western red cedar and Pacific madrone trees to now do the upgrade is only compounding the past mistakes by avoiding responsible stewardship of both our schools and our natural urban habitat.

The Principal testified that he went around to different student groups to recruit them to come to the public meeting to support the project as is. It is very hard for any students to take on the Principal publicly and say they opposed cutting down the trees. I have spoken with both students and teachers who opposed cutting down the trees. At least one teacher was told to stop any efforts to get students to oppose cutting down the trees because that was political and not education. The teacher felt threatened and that her job was at stake.

The Principal is the authority figure at the school. Student recommendations for college frequently come from the Principal. Is it any wonder that teachers and students who oppose cutting down the trees might feel intimidated or threatened if they spoke out. I remember when I contacted Martin Floe about our arborist looking at the trees he personally told me to not talk to the students. I guess he was afraid of them hearing anything contrary to his position. So much for an open dialogue at Ingraham.

What Floe has forgotten is that he is acting in a capacity of public trustee for a public school funded by taxpayer dollars. He has tried to characterize the neighbors as NIMBY’s which means he doesn’t even understand the term. We are not opposed to renovating the school and in fact believe it is long overdue. I am aware of no one in our group or neighbors and other tree advocates that are opposed to the renovation. We voted for the BEX bond issue. Our tax dollars are paying for the project and we have the right to express our views as much as anyone else.

Unfortunately the process set up by Martin Floe excluded the community and neighbors from the initial selection of the site and design of the project. Meetings of the School Design Team were held in secret with a few parents and teachers personally selected by Martin Floe. The public’s only chance to comment on the proposed project was earlier this year after the building site had been chosen and the design done. And we were then told we could not comment on the site anymore since that decision was already made.

At last night’s meeting, as I publicly stated, I do not think anyone there opposed the decaying portables being torn down and replaced with modern classrooms. Unfortunately it was obvious that the only option given to students and others to get new classrooms was to build in the tree grove. And blame the neighbors, rather than the School District for its inadequate review and closed review process, for preventing them from getting new classrooms.

The issue at this point is a legal one, whether or not the project is in compliance with city and state SEPA laws. We are pursing the legal process afforded the public to review the project.

The meeting was part of the public process for approval of land use permits for building in the City of Seattle and is proceeding on the normal timetable, except for the delay caused by the School District withdrawing their permit application in August in an attempt to just cut the trees down. The King County Superior Court issued an injunction to stop the trees from being cut down without any review by the City of Seattle. The City of Seattle is expected to make a decision in the next few weeks. The City does have the authority under the city’s SEPA laws to further mitigate the project, including moving it to save the tree grove. We will let you know what happens.

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