Throughout Oak Knoll Elementary's 72-year history in Menlo Park, children have cavorted beneath the towering oak tree in the middle of the playground. Last week, a large limb came crashing down, and then an arborist sealed its fate: On Saturday, Sept. 23, Oak Knoll's beloved oak is getting cut down.
"It's really heart-breaking," said Principal Alicia Payton-Miyazaki, who recalled playing by the tree back when she was a student at Oak Knoll. She said there was a huge collective feeling of relief that the branch fell overnight last Tuesday, Sept. 12, when no one was on campus.
The school gardener discovered the damage Wednesday morning, Sept. 13, Payton-Miyazaki said. "He said the most lovely thing," she said. "He said, 'Trees take care of people, they try not to fall down during the day.'"
School officials took the "extremely cautious" approach of roping off a large area surrounding the tree and portion of the lunch tables until the tree is removed.
An arborist from Davey Tree Service trimmed the damaged sections, but said that based on the way the limb broke, the tree could not be stabilized and saved, said Payton-Miyazaki. He also said he didn't think it likely that any other branches would fall.
Losing a cherished symbol of the school has left some of the younger students concerned that Oak Knoll would have to be renamed, Payton-Miyazaki. She reassured them that the school was actually named for the street it's on, Oak Knoll Lane, and not for the tree itself.
On Monday afternoon, Sept. 18, there were plans to take staff photos under the tree while it still stands, she said. In all, five people who currently work at Oak Knoll are also former students, and they're planning a special group photo, she said.
Administrators contacted a Santa Cruz-based carver and are soliciting ideas from the school community about how best to repurpose the doomed oak. Ideas include making a bench, preserving the stump or carving it into something that kids can climb on, said Payton-Miyazaki.