Sunlight filtered through the high branches of tall Douglas fir trees one recent afternoon as Michele Leonard walked through a small grove...

Share story

Sunlight filtered through the high branches of tall Douglas fir trees one recent afternoon as Michele Leonard walked through a small grove across the street from her North Seattle home, giving a slight sigh.

“These trees are gone come July, and it doesn’t matter what we say,” she said. “This is the school district, and they get what they want.”

More than 80 trees, many of them decades-old evergreens, are slated to be cut down on the Ingraham High School grounds as part of a $24 million renovation project authorized by voters last year.

But Leonard and some of her neighbors, who’ve found an ally in the Seattle Audubon Society, argue the stand of trees provides a welcome buffer between their homes and the school.

“Right now, I open my backdoor and I look outside and see a forest,” said Leonard, who for 10 years has enjoyed the sight of fir, cedar and madrona trees on the northwest corner of the high-school campus. “But that forest is going away.”

Matthew Mega, conservation director for the Seattle Audubon Society, has asked the school district to take a closer look at potential environmental impacts of the project, noting that mature trees can be important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

“We seem to be going backwards, with more trees getting cut on a daily occurrence than saved or planted,” wrote Mega.

Not a done deal

The school district’s plans, as detailed in a 20-plus “environmental checklist,” call for eliminating 62 trees, primarily evergreens, from a stand of 130, and cutting down 22 more trees deemed to be diseased.

The trees would make way for a new classroom wing to replace a half-dozen portable buildings now in use.

New trees would be added around the campus — more new trees, in fact, than the number to be cut down.

But Leonard and some of her neighbors doubt that smaller “street trees” and other plantings will replace the canopy, serenity and bird habitat the tall trees provide. “I see flickers and finches and hawks and, sometimes, eagles,” said Leonard. “We won’t see them in street trees.”

Officially, removal of the trees is not a done deal.

Although a preliminary school-district report concluded the renovation project would not present significant environmental problems, comments on that report will be evaluated and addressed, said David Tucker, spokesman for the school district.

“Right now there is a process, and the process is still engaged,” said Tucker. But Tucker emphasized that the school’s portable buildings must be removed, and new classrooms must be built. Ingraham, built in 1959, has long been in need of renovation and upgrading.

Neighbors with concerns about the tree removal say they’ve seen no indication the district would be willing to reconsider.

“It sounds like they have already decided,” said Amy Wong, who attended a meeting at the school this week to discuss the project. Wong and her husband, Paul, bought their house on Ashworth Avenue North in 1989, partly because the stand of trees directly across from their front door, “was like a small park.”

Another neighbor, Steve Zemke, collected signatures from residents of nine nearby homes calling for a closer look at the project’s environmental impacts, citing concerns about the removal of trees and creation of more parking spaces. “Should we really be encouraging more students to drive to school?” he said.

Zemke said if public input had been sought sooner, he thinks the project could have been designed to provide new classroom space elsewhere on the campus, without removing the stand of fir and cedar.

“They basically put together a design, but it seems like it was an in-house process, not a public process,” Zemke said.

Some neighbors say school officials haven’t done a good job of informing residents about the process and the opportunities to participate.

Leonard noted that when the district put out its “environmental checklist” on the project, she was mailed 30 copies of a public notice.

Some other nearby residents received none.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com