Trees Destroy, Motives Questioned

RIOC, Ben Kallos, Gale Brewer Silent As PS/IS 217 Snubs Resident Concerns

Updated 1 year ago Peter McCarthy
Cars parked free continue to choke the alley beside PS/IS 217
Cars parked free continue to choke the alley beside PS/IS 217
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

January 7th, a contractor worked in steady snow to remove five healthy trees from the north lawn area of PS/IS 217. Elected representatives Ben Kallos and Gale Brewer were soon notified of concerns, as was RIOC. None responded effectively. No wonder school principal Mandana Beckman felt safe in issuing an explanation that was, depending on your point of view, deeply disappointing or just plain insulting.

We Still Don't Know Why PS/IS 217 Destroyed the Trees

A direct inquiry to the school's head custodian Jeffrey Atkinson went unanswered, but more than two days after the event, school principal Mandana Beckman posted a rambling message on their PTA page.

"The roots of these trees have created a trip hazard, deeming the space unsafe for use by the emergency exits. In the event of an emergency in the building, students occupying this area would be forced to walk through the entire length of the building in order to be safely evacuated," she wrote.

The problem with Beckman's rationale, of course, is that the roots to which she points the finger of blame were never touched and remain as much a hazard as they ever may have been. Only the trees, all five of them, were removed.

Sad fact is, those now protruding, ugly stumps have added to the alleged "trip hazards."

But there's more. Where healthy trees once threw shade on the lawn a huge gas guzzler now routinely parks, creating a greater obstacle to emergency exits than any tree roots ever did. And it's there, along with two dozen other free parkers that clog the alley between PS/IS 217 and Manhattan Park, apparently with the school's blessing. 

Skeptics have complained that Beckman's real motive in killing the trees was to create even more free parking for the school, and that fear seems to be materializing.

Silence From Ben Kallos, Gale Brewer and RIOC PSD

Alerted as soon as Westview residents spotted the destruction on January 7th, City Council Member Ben Kallos reacted that he was reaching out to the school. Any answers he received have not been shared. Kallos's seeming failure to get involved stands in stark contrast to his strong support of PS/IS 217's Green Roofs project, to which he pledged $500,000 in 2016 after asking for Roosevelt Islanders' endorsement of the plan.

Inaction calls into question Kallos's environmental commitment as well as that of the school.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer also assisted with funding from her own budget. Her office did not respond to a resident's complaint about the environmental impact of hacking down healthy trees.

Of greater practical concern, RIOC's Public Safety Department continues to allow free parking in an access alley Island residents have long been told is a No Parking Zone. Not only does this give the school, its employees and visitors special privileges, it creates a serious safety hazard.

Look carefully at the photo above. The alley borders a high rise apartment building managed by Manhattan Park. In the event of an emergency, large rescue vehicles face unnecessary difficulties in accessing the building. Even if a hook-and-ladder successfully made a turn into the alley, which is questionable given the clutter of cars parked there, would rescuers be able to easily deploy their equipment in a lane crammed with free parkers?

Public Safety was notified but took no action in what appears to be deference to the school's demand for free parking not enjoyed by residents.


It's hard to shake the conclusion that Kallos, Brewer and RIOC have chosen to stick their heads in the sand, preferring to offer no response but, in doing so, endorsing PS/IS 217's terrible decision to destroy healthy trees and allowing an inappropriately hazardous situation to persist.

Sadly, neither the school nor Kallos, Brewer or RIOC PSD recognize Roosevelt Island residents' right to a fuller explanation for this gross environmental destruction.

Inasmuch as the Green Roofs project is praised for its capacity for teaching children about nature, what lesson should children learn from the current episode?


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