Trees cleared for safety

Thursday, July 5th, 2012
Click to see slideshow

Things look a little brighter on the playgrounds of Waimea Country School and Small World Preschool now that trees on country property were removed and pruned from June 4 to around June 15.

Trees still surround the property, but they are at a safe distance according to Amy Salling, head of Waimea Country School.

“We had that big windstorm (last month after the trees were removed) and I was out there, and it was great – nothing came down,” Salling said. “It felt really good.”

A 94-foot eucalyptus tree fell on the Waimea Country School property at around 2:30 p.m. on April 7, damaging playground equipment, affecting power and phone lines and blowing out power strips. The tree also broke a few areas of the fence and a gate and a portion of the school garden was ruined.

Two months later, the county hired arborist Michael Kraus of Tree Works, Inc., to eliminate the trees on county property that posed a danger to children and other people on the St. James Episcopal Church grounds.

“We removed 15 trees and pruned others not in the original contract because it seemed the prudent thing to do so they were not likely to break and do some damage to the school area,” Kraus said.

Kraus said they used a crane, a winch truck and an aerial bucket truck as well as six professional arborist climbers to complete the job. The crew worked daily on the project, even working through a weekend for the children’s safety. Christian Kraus was the operational supervisor and arborist in charge.

“I was very pleased with the responsiveness of the county,” said Salling, “Once they recognized the risk, they came in and took care of it.”

After the tree fell in April, the Hawaiian Electric Company, Oceanic Time Warner Cable and Hawaiian Telcom responded and completed repairs. They cut up the tree and turned it into wood chips for the school to use.

Small World Preschool next door also received damage during the power surge that followed power restoration. The power surge caused the preschool to lose two refrigerators, two microwaves and their main phone. The school had to rent a refrigerator for a month while one was repaired and they had to replace the other. Small World also had to buy a new microwave used to heat student lunches and a parent donated another. The surge also blew out a dishwasher, which was under warranty and was repaired.

Kraus said after he did an initial risk assessment of the area in 2009 for Waimea Trails and Greenways, he felt some of the Eucalyptus Robusta trees posed an extreme risk for the school.

“I was worried,” Kraus said. “I thought it was just terrible, being such an unreliable tree. It is not anything I would want around where people are present.”

Kraus said the Eucalyptus Robusta, which come from Australia tends to fall.

“The Eucalyptus Robusta is not a safe to have around anything valuable,” Kraus said. “Waimea has a lot of them planted. The risk that they pose gets greater every year.”

Salling said that when the tree fell on the school in April, she received a flood donations and support from the community.

“It was a real outpouring of the support and concern for the school,” Salling said. “It was really touching.”

She is happy to know the playground area is protected.

“I like having the trees, but safety of the children trumps that,” Salling said. “It is still a really nice atmosphere.”