POTTSTOWN — The Pottstown School Board is preparing to move forward with a plan to plant more than 500 shade trees on school district properties.
The project was discussed last year, but the board backed down from the half-million-dollar price tag and filed the case in hopes the money would be included in a bill. federal to help defer some of the cost.
In what board member Thomas Hylton called “almost a miracle”, that’s exactly what happened.
At the time the question was tabled, the stimulus bill being debated in Washington was President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Bill. Over the year, that morphed into the Cut Inflation Act and includes funding for “tree equity,” said Hylton, who has spent decades advocating and paying for the planting and maintaining street trees in Pottstown.
While nothing is ever guaranteed, Hylton said he believes Pottstown has a good chance of getting the grant because of the clause to address “tree equity.”
An organization called American Forests, which has been studying and advocating for trees since 1875, has developed what’s called a “Tree Equity Score,” which measures the differential in tree cover between rich and poor communities.
Hylton said the census tract that includes Barth Elementary School has a score of 17%, which is low compared to other census tracts in Montgomery County, with similar percentages for each of the other schools.
In a different way, the Barth census tract has 98% fewer trees than all other census tracts in Montgomery County. The census tract with the Pottstown High School/College Complex has 99% fewer trees than other census tracts in Montgomery County.
“So we have huge inequities with our trees here in Pottstown,” Hylton said, which should improve the chances of Pottstown’s grant application.
Hylton is also chair of the finance and facilities committee and it was his proposal that was tabled last year. He returned at Thursday night’s committee meeting where Hylton said the Inflation Recovery Act includes $8 million for tree planting efforts in Pennsylvania.
Save Our Land, a non-profit organization founded by Hylton, has already paid landscape architects Simone Collins about $30,000 to draft a plan for planting 554 new trees on school property.
Before finalizing the plan, Simone Collins met with building managers and superintendent Stephen Rodriguez to ensure there were no safety or line of sight issues with the placement of the new trees, many of which will be planted in the car parks of the various schools.
Federal money will be distributed through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which typically requires a 50% match from grant recipients. However, because this is a one-time program using federal funds, the grant, if obtained, will cover 80% of the cost, Hylton said.
If the grant is received, the cost to Pottstown ratepayers will drop to about $111,000, Hylton said.
The grant application deadline is October 27, and Simone Collins will write and submit the grant as part of the proposal that committee members unanimously approved on Thursday evening.
“I would like to see this move forward,” said school board president Katina Bearden. “We saw how the skies cleared up when everything was shut down” during the pandemic,” Bearden said. “I am in favor of trees for what trees give us in terms of environmental benefits.”
Board member Laura Johnson, who approved the idea but not the cost last year, said: “I’m sold. When I watch something that’s desirable, but we can’t afford the full price, and you tell me it’s 80% off, I’m sold,” she said. “I also like the education part.”
Johnson was referring to the part of the plan that would see the trees planted over a three-year period with six “community planting events” involving students and community members interested in the actual plantings.
Assuming the entire school board approves the committee’s recommendation to submit the grant, the district should know if it was chosen in January.