Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

School trustees will discuss the district’s policies for tree planting at schools following challenges a Parent Advisory Council (PAC) has experienced in enhancing an elementary school’s grounds.

At the April 3 education committee, trustees heard a presentation from the École Quarterway PAC who has been working with facilities and maintenance staff since 2016 to integrate more trees onto the Nanaimo school’s grounds. The PAC reported they have run into multiple roadblocks with district staff including a planned wilderness area next to a new playground not materializing and back and forth about tree species allowed. Most recently, the PAC said the facilities department halted the project once again saying land use guidelines do not exist yet in relation to the Board of Education’s environmental stewardship action plan (ESAP), which was approved in 2022.

Trustees asked how close the district was to having draft guidelines – which are an action item in the ESAP. Secretary-Treasurer Mark Walsh said it would be “probably quite some time” before the guidelines are written adding that when staff review tree planting proposals they take into consideration matters like managing the district’s risk in relation to student safety and potential interference with future building expansions.

The ESAP calls for the development of land use guidelines “that consider Indigenous knowledge, prioritizes the use of native plants, the regeneration of natural green spaces and the inclusion of trees on school grounds and play spaces” which includes identifying “budgetary and operational considerations of increasing naturalized environments on school grounds.”

The École Quarterway PAC has raised $7,500 for the tree planting project and has volunteered to water the trees for the next three years while the roots establish. Trustee Greg Keller asked the PAC why their plan included a mix of native and non-native tree species when the ESAP calls for the prioritization of natives; the PAC responded that the list were trees approved by the facilities and maintenance department.

The business committee will receive a report from staff at an upcoming meeting that outlines the approvals process for planting trees and other landscaping on school grounds including the selection of plant species, funding of materials and labour and ongoing maintenance.

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