Soon enough, the Valemount Elementary schoolyard will have no pine trees.

The pine trees currently in the schoolyard are dying, as pine beetles attacked them about eight years ago, according to Brett Apolczer, manager of the facilities services department for School District 57 (SD57).

As it stands now, the trees die and the district comes to take them away. They do not, however, replant any.

“We don’t have a budget for replanting the trees,” says Apolczer.

“Rather than just taking them all down, we’ve waited til they start dying off and we go take 15 or 20 every year,” he says.

In the last 10 years, Apolczer says the school district has taken down between 7,000 and 8,000 trees in the Prince George area due to steady attacks from the mountain pine beetle.

However, if the school’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC) — which is now a society, according to its chairperson — wants to apply for grants through Trees Canada, Apolczer says the district would assist them in doing so.

“We’ve got lots of schools that plant trees,” he says.

Students at the elementary school usually spend about an hour a day outside.

Photo: Evan Matthews The Valemount Elementary School’s PAC says its priorities are set, and replanting the pine trees is not among them.

But Valemount Elementary won’t be among those planting, according to the Chair of the PAC, Samantha Travers, as the council has other priorities.

One of the main priorities, Travers notes, is a second playground for the kids, a playground with a cost estimate of $70,000.

“It’s not small change… we can’t have it all,” says Travers. “Having a playground is more important than having a tree. Having a theatre program is important… You have to pick the things you want.”

A while back, Travers says the District refused to give the school a new structure, and the previous PAC was forced to remove the old one as it deteriorated further and further.

Because the kids had no playground, Travers says the PAC at the time paid $50,000 and put a new one.

“Putting in a second is high up on our priority list,” she says. “We’re lacking a (playground) for the smaller children.”

The students are divided into two groups, Travers says, — primary and intermediate — and the two groups aren’t allowed on the playground at the same time.

The cost estimate per 6-foot tall baby tree is $150, according to Travers.

Although $150 may not sound like a lot, Travers says the hoops the PAC has to jump through add even more difficulty. Any work on school property has to be approved by SD57, and then the work completed by a SD57 employee.

Photo: Evan Matthews
Photo: Evan Matthews

“Let’s say you put in five trees — that will cost $500 (minimum),” says Travers.

“We put in garden boxes for $1,000 each. We put in a $5,000 outdoor recreation program for snowshoeing. Now, putting another playground in is on our list,” she says, adding an outdoor classroom is something else the PAC is interested in.

The PAC raises money through fundraisers, raffles, and grants, as the council is listed as a society for the first time in Valemount Elementary history, Travers says.