The 1960s Come Back to Bite Us
It seems that we’re in a time warp regarding the environment. In 1934, owners of Breakheart Hill Forest sold their land to the state with the understanding that it would be preserved as a state park for all to enjoy.
Thirty-one years later, in 1965, the state transferred 60 acres of this land to the Metro Tech school district to build a school. [Note that, contrary to what you may have heard, school districts are public property. Private property can only be held by individuals or corporations.] Metro Tech developed about half of this land, choosing to build on the flatter, northern portion. They preserved the forested southern half, which extends up onto a hill all the way to Farm Street. Since then, this rugged, elevated forest has been the domain of wildflowers and wildlife, and of hikers, runners, and dog walkers.
It’s clear that the state gave the Metro Tech twice the land it needed. As a result, part of the forest that should have remained a state park was put at risk for development. Since 1965, we have had the environmental movement, including the founding of US EPA under President Nixon, 52 Earth Days, and innumerable reports on human impacts on the environment. During this almost 60-year period, we have come to understand the essential role of nature in every aspect of our lives.
Where does our forest fit into this picture? Forests purify air, filter water, prevent erosion, provide habitat for thousands of species, and serve as a buffer against climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Forests are some of the most beautiful, magical places on Earth and we are losing them at an alarming rate.
Recently our state government developed a Massachusetts Forest Action Plan (www.mass.gov/service-details/massachusetts-forest-action-plan). This 2020 plan is a 10-year update to the “Assessment of the Forest Resources of Massachusetts” and “Forest Resource Strategies of Massachusetts” published in 2010. Among other goals, the plan includes these: Goal 4: Maintain and increase urban tree canopy; Goal 5: Enhance the connection between forests and people; and Goal 6: Increase land base of conserved forests (keep forests as forests).
Despite this environmental awareness, what did the Metro Tech building committee decide to do when given the task of siting a school? They decided to ignore everything we have learned since 1965 and everything in our forest action plan.
The building committee chose site C3, a site rejected by the pre-feasibility study as “environmentally and financially infeasible,” smack in the middle of the forest! And they did this knowing that an excellent site exists on the currently developed campus (site C2).
Why did they choose C3? It appears that they wanted to avoid losing playing fields while the new school is being built (“least disruption to school operations”). However, if the school were built on C2, the high school and the Metro Tech would still have four fields between them, which could be shared during construction. When the new school is complete, the Metro Tech would gain an additional field when the old school is razed. Towns such as Arlington, Melrose, Natick, Saugus, Stoneham, Swampscott, as well as our own town of Wakefield, are finding ways to build new high schools on their existing footprints. If they can do this, why can’t the Metro Tech?
Looking at the environmental and fiscal costs of destroying the forest, the playing-field reason does not justify the committee’s decision. The real reason appears to be that they do not value the forest. It is simply a piece of land that they can develop, even though it is by far the costliest option, especially for site preparation.
Why are we throwing away part of our precious remaining forest and contributing to further destruction of our planet? What kind of example does this set for our children? Have we learned nothing since 1965? Is there no way to stop this costly, heartbreaking loss before it’s too late? … and still build an excellent Metro Tech for our children?