October 31, 2016
Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff:
Subject: Update - Tree mitigation at Highlands Elementary
Thank you for your patience and understanding as we moved through a tree mitigation process to address potential safety concerns at our school over the past year. Our entire school community was deeply affected when one of our young students was seriously injured last year after being hit by a falling tree limb. As the safety of students and staff is the top priority for the school district, we undertook an extensive process, in collaboration with the homeowners of the adjacent proprieties, to review all trees and address any concerns.
Safety tree mitigation work at Highlands Elementary is now complete. It was a thorough process consisting of the following steps:
- The playground and rear of the school were closed off until all risk mitigation work in the area was complete.
- It was determined that the school property line directly abutted eight private properties and that clarity around ownership was required to move forward. Letters to the owners of these properties were issued explaining the situation and advising that a surveyor and arborist contracted by the school district would require access to their properties to conduct tree audits.
- The school district engaged Hobbs, Winter & MacDonald as land surveyors and an arborist from Bartlett Tree Experts to map out and identify trees posing potential risks to the area behind the school. The survey and visual tree assessment covered both the school property and the eight private property parcels abutting the school property line.
- The survey identified approximately seventy large trees that required further assessment. Numerous smaller trees also required maintenance. In some cases, trees were found directly on the property lines and, therefore, had shared ownership. The work on all of the properties was extensive and the topography was challenging. Simply clear-cutting the area was not an option because it would negatively impact slope stability in the ravine.
- The school district connected with the District of North Vancouver to highlight the urgency for tree removal permits necessary to manage the identified trees on the school property and on the lands of the eight private owners. The municipality expedited permit requests.
- The eight landowners were provided with the results of the survey and visual tree assessment. They were asked for immediate cooperation in having the trees on their private properties professionally assessed, and to expedite any required tree maintenance and recommendations for removal of potentially dangerous trees. In the case where shared ownership was identified, the school district offered to take the lead in having the tree assessment completed and permit applications completed. If the private property owner wanted to take the lead, the school district closely cooperated.
- All property owners were very supportive and responsive to the school district's requests for them to remediate the trees on their respective properties.
- There were some minor challenges that delayed the process to complete the tree mitigation work: property owners who were on extended vacations prior to the incident, change of ownership of the private properties, legal matters, bird nesting, and obtaining competitive estimates for this high dollar value work.
Following all of this effort to ensure the safety of students and staff, the tree mitigation work at our school is now complete and all areas of the school are open for children to enjoy.
As the school district continues to commit to risk mitigation, school administrators will continue to make risk-based decisions during extreme weather events at their schools, based on the local conditions. Regular tree audits and visual tree assessments performed by certified arborists have also taken place at all other schools in the North Vancouver School District, and this process will continue as an ongoing process in the school district. Tree hazards on adjacent private properties are also identified and landowners informed of the risks presented by their trees and encouraged to expeditiously mitigate those risks. Outcomes of visual tree audits often lead to more extensive studies with recommendations ranging from pruning to full removals. The assessment information is used to prioritize, plan and execute work in a proactive fashion at all school sites across the school district.
Todd Henderson, Principal, Highlands Elementary
Mike Chapman, Assistant Director of Facilities and Planning, North Vancouver School District