Trustees ask: After the Cohasset tree felling, what?

Conceding that it’s not within its given powers to make dead trees grow back, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees continues to try to make right a logging operation gone awry at Cohasset Elementary School.

Eight months after more than 250 diseased and healthy trees were cut down around at the school, leaving the playground looking more like a wasteland than the forest that had formerly surrounded it, the board on April 17 heard an update on plans to replant and enhance the playground area.

Dana Hanson, who with her husband Brian lives in Cohasset and owns a landscaping business, said they were glad to offer a no-pressure bid to replace some of the trees and introduce other landscaping elements.

“It will help diffuse the area that seems so barren right now,” she said, presenting a park-like design that could be implemented in three phases, the first estimated at $34,000. “We are trying to be reasonable [in terms of cost], but at the same time we do want to see some kind of change and impact.”

Trustees seemed pleased with the idea but worried about the cost both to construct and maintain the park. Given the tight budget and pending cuts, board President Ann Sisco said, “this makes my head spin.”

Many Cohasset residents were in the audience for the issue, which continues to provoke bitterness in the community. One parent told the board, “An entire forest was removed. Now it looks like the moon.”

Last July 31, a logger had advised the school’s then principal that many of the trees needed to go, for safety reasons. The first thing trustees heard about it was the sad and angry calls from parents and other residents who wondered how a six-acre public school site could be relieved of 25 truckloads of trees—at a profit to the logger—without so much as a public hearing. They got the operation stopped, but not before the landscape at the small school was changed forever.

The district quickly called the logging a well-intentioned mistake and has pledged to put at least the about-$20,000 the CUSD got from the timber proceeds toward a new play area.

The board will take up the issue again at a meeting next month. Superintendent Scott Brown asked trustees to ponder, "What might be an appropriate investment in this restoration? It goes well beyond any standard we’ve had at any other school site."