Following miscommunication, Mohawk Trail Regional School District looks to replace trees

  • Trees on the border between a residence and Colrain Central School were partially removed. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Trees on the border between a residence and Colrain Central School were partially removed. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Trees on the border between a residence and Colrain Central School were partially removed. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/15/2022 4:06:20 PM

COLRAIN — A miscommunication between Colrain Central School and abutters has led to half the trees on the border between the school and private land to be cut down, resulting in the Mohawk Trail Regional School District needing to replace them.

During a capital improvement project where the school repaved the parking lot, the contractor requested a change order to cut down several trees in poor condition that were hanging over the northern side of the lot.

“There was an agreement to take down the diseased trees at the far end of the property,” abutter Chris Laroche recounted. However, “they started to take down the rest of the trees as well.”

The School Committee thought approvals had been secured to cut down all the trees bordering the property, but it became apparent that was not the case when Laroche and his wife stopped the workers halfway through the removal process.

“When you cut down trees, you should always notify the abutters,” said Brad Brigham, another abutter.

Laroche explained the trees bordering Colrain Central School and their property were needed to shade their pollinator garden, which was specifically planted with native plants to protect endangered insects and to be used as a natural classroom for the children. The trees provided shade for the garden in the daytime and a barrier from light pollution at night. According to Laroche, light pollution harms the caterpillars in the garden, so the trees were needed as a barrier.

“The School Committee recognized there was a mistake. Now we are working with them to restore the property line,” Laroche said.

The abutters and the School Committee have met three times, and will continue to meet to come to an agreement about replanting.

“They are working constructively to make amends to the satisfaction of both parties,” Brigham said.

The School Committee received three estimates for the cost of tree restoration.

“They were higher than we would be able to afford,” noted School Committee Chair Martha Thurber. “We are talking with the abutters about the size of the trees and how far apart they are to lower the cost to something we can manage.”

Amherst Nurseries put in the lowest bid and was selected for the project. Since the dimensions of the trees are in flux, the School Committee does not have a final cost. However, the company’s estimate — using tree dimensions the School Committee does not plan to use — came in at $14,617, Thurber said.

The abutters want the mulch used to be free of Asian jumping worms, which are common in Franklin County and are transferred by transplanting plants from other gardens. The School Committee has discussed using mulch that was freshly chipped to ensure there are no diseases.

The miscommunication has also created disputes between the School Committee and Colrain officials, as Colrain owns the school building. At a Mohawk Trail Building Subcommittee meeting, members felt that the town and the School Committee need clearly defined roles that do not overlap to prevent future miscommunication.

“I feel that we have been left out of the loop on this conversation,” said Michael Slowinski, Colrain Selectboard member and community representative on the Building Subcommittee. “We don’t know where things are with the abutters. We are trying to get information.”

The abutters are cooperating with the school district and do not plan to involve an attorney, according to Brigham.

“Technically they are abutters, but they are our neighbors and we want to work with them,” Slowinski said.

At the last Building Subcommittee meeting, Chair Budge Litchfield said the plans for tree replacement are too vague to move forward. The subcommittee has until Aug. 22 (the date of its next meeting) to find exact costs for the tree planting project.

Contact Bella Levavi at blevavi@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

An earlier version of this story included an instance of incorrect attribution. Abutter Brad Brigham explained the abutters do not plan to involve an attorney.


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