Empire school tree removal will go ahead despite outcry

The Waterloo Region District School Board admits that Empire Public School neighbours weren't informed "explicitly" about removing trees to make way for a school addition.
A view of Empire Public School and some trees slated to be cut down to make room for the school's $4 million addition. (Colin Butler/CBC)

The Waterloo Region District School Board says that it will go ahead with the removal of about a dozen mature trees in the Empire Public School yard despite protests from neighbours who say they weren't consulted about the change.

The trees at the school in Waterloo's Westmount neighbourhood will be cut down to make room for a $4-million addition.

Ian Gaudet, the Controller of Facility Services with the Waterloo Region District School Board, told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris that the decision to take the down the trees is final and that construction was started over March Break.

"We've hoarded the north end of the site and started our clearing and grubbing," he said.

Jill Bobier (left) and Clare Brennan live near Empire Public School. (Colin Butler/CBC)

He admitted the board could have done a better job of communicating with the community.

"It's probably true that they haven't been told explicitly, and I think there's probably some opportunities to enhance communication with our neighbours," said Gaudet.

"However, having said that, we applied through the city's site plan approval process back last August, of 2012. We met with the city forester and received our approvals in late February with our permit issued, and started construction over the March break."

That doesn't sit well with neighbourhood residents Jill Bobier and Clare Brennan, whose properties back on to the school grounds. They told Norris that the school board still hasn't officially told them that trees are getting cut down.

"If I hadn't been our walking my dog Thursday morning, and I happened to chat with one neighbour who said a hydro man had informed him of this last summer, we never would have known," said Brennan.

Bobier says the trees add to the neighbourhood.

"The trees are probably 75 feet tall. They were planted in the 60s so they're very mature, leafy trees. They're a beautiful canopy, even in the winter without leaves," said Jill Bobier. 

Empire Public School is making the additions to accommodate the expansion of full-day kindergarten. Gaudet says the school will be getting a five-classroom addition, a double gym, enhancing the library and adding the parking lot.

Gaudet told Norris there were 24 parking spaces at the school, and that 36 spots would be added to bring that total up to 60 spots, to accommodate additional staff.

"I can tell you we looked at several different options for this parking lot, trying to minimize impacts to the site, tie in to existing infrastructure and ultimately the solution that we've landed on, although there are some trees that have to come down, it is best for student safety and I would say economics in terms of how we tie into the school," he said.