THE weather’s cooled but some kids at Mt Hawthorn primary school aren’t looking forward to next summer. The reason? The school’s centerpiece 75-year-old Port Jackson fig tree has been axed.
A large grassy area once shaded by the mighty tree is now a giant sandpit as trucks dump sand for the foundations of a new two-storey classroom.
Local eco-advocate group Trees4Vincent petitioned WA education minister Sue Ellery to alter plans for a $3.5 million early learning centre to protect the tree.
But despite a 1000-signature petition, she maintained the alternative ideas just weren’t suitable.
Along with a lack of shade, the heat problem is compounded by a synthetic surface installed elsewhere to replace the natural grass which could no longer keep up with growing student numbers (currently around 850 and projected to grow to 950 by 2025).
Parent Naomi O’Shea says temperatures are seven degrees hotter on the fake turf compared to real grass.
Her daughter Leah, a year one student, has written an adorable letter to the education minister: “To Mrs Ellery…… I am a bit sad about the tree that cut doone. Can you not cut doone ene moo treet,”
The huge Port Jackson fig was a favourite place to play and she loved to collect its leaves for her leaf collection.
A massive old peppermint tree shading a concrete tunnel play area on Killarney Street was also given the chop leaving the area hot, dry and unusable in summer, Mrs O’Shea says.
Green’s education spokesperson Alison Xamon says the education department needs to increase tree canopy cover on school sites, not detract from it.
The education department tried in practice to replace trees that had been removed, but it had no formal policy to do so, she says.
“On a site as small as Mt Hawthorn Primary School, the loss of canopy cover over the last 12 years has been astounding–more than 2,700 square metres,” Ms Xamon says.
“While over 20 trees have been removed, including the huge fig tree, more have been heavily pruned.
“Only four new trees have been planted in that time.”
Planning and preparations for urban infill had been in place for a long time, Ms Xamon says: “We know that our school sites are going to reflect the density increases around them and that they can’t physically get any bigger.
“Managing and maintaining the existing school canopy, and hopefully increasing it, while also accommodating a growing number of students, needs to be an issue that the Department of Education takes seriously.”
Education minister Sue Ellery was contacted for a response.
by DAVID BELL and JENNY D’ANGER