Aug 25, 2023 - Education

CMSD construction at Cudell Park could destroy 40 mature trees

Cleveland residents hold signs in support of Cudell Park mature trees outside brick building

Residents outside CMSD's East Professional Center Tuesday evening. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

Cleveland has a tree problem.

Driving the news: Residents from the Cudell neighborhood demonstrated outside a Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) board meeting Tuesday evening to protest the construction of a new Marion C. Seltzer elementary school on the Cudell Park footprint.

  • The design plans, the result of a 2021 land swap with the City of Cleveland, call for removing 40 mature trees, including a 200-year-old bald cypress.

Why it matters: Once known as the Forest City, Cleveland now has a tree canopy of 18% and loses about 75 acres of tree cover per year to development.

What they're saying: "As a city and as leaders, we must begin to think about trees in a very different way," Ward 15 councilwoman Jenny Spencer, who represents Cudell and sits on Cleveland's new Urban Forestry Commission, said during public comment Tuesday.

  • "For too long, we have presumed that mature trees can be replaced by simply planting new trees. This is not the case."
  • Spencer said CMSD and other local institutions have failed to provide adequate care and stewardship for the young trees they plant on development sites. "Many of the new trees in Ward 15 will not live for 20 years," she said, "let alone 150."

Of note: Ward 15 is home to four of the five projects in "Segment 8," the final phase of CMSD's capital improvement plan.

  • "It's an extremely high volume of activity," Spencer said.
Mature trees next to a clocktower
Some of the mature trees on Cudell Park's north side. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

The intrigue: The city's urban forester was not consulted on the Seltzer school plans until the designs had been finalized.

  • CMSD says that modifying the design now could cost as much as $1.2 million and delay construction.

Yes, but: Residents had a chance to weigh in during a community engagement phase, but they told Axios that this largely happened during COVID and that many of them were unaware of the plans until meetings this July and August.

  • "It's unconscionable," said Nikki Hudson, a homeowner in the Cudell neighborhood. "This park is very important to the community, and removing healthy mature trees in this era of climate change is not what we should be doing."

What's next: Construction at the Cudell site is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks.

  • Spencer said she would seek changes in the city code to include urban forestry earlier in the design phase of future projects.
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