District’s own timber could accent new high school

The Vashon Island School District hopes to accomplish two goals at once, as it thins the forest around the district’s campus and uses some of the wood collected in the new high school building.

Eric Gill, the district’s capital projects manager, said the district is working out the details of a plan that would allow the Vashon Forest Stewards to complete a much-needed ecological thinning of the approximately 50 acres of woods surrounding the district’s three schools. The Forest Stewards would then mill the harvested alder, fir and possibly madrone, keeping some to use in the construction of the  high school and selling some for profit.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Gill said of the plan.

The school district has planned to thin its forested property — an area with trails frequented by students, athletes and Islanders — for some time. A couple of years ago a forest stewardship project completed by the Vashon Forest Stewards with help from Vashon students showed that parts of the woods should be thinned and that some trees are at risk of falling.

Dave Warren, head of the Forest Stewards, said that the hazard trees — rotting or leaning trees that may eventually fall down — would be the first to be removed.

“Hazard trees near the trails or the edge of the play field, all those trees we’re most concerned with,” Warren said.

Other parts of the forest, he said, would benefit if some of the trees were removed to make room for others, and if invasive plants such as ivy and holly were replaced with native ones.

“Ideally, we are trying to improve the forest, so we want to deal with all those problems,” Warren said.

Gill said it’s an opportune time for the school district to complete the thinning, as the natural, high-quality wood from the forest can be harvested and milled for less than it would cost the district to buy it commercially.

“We’ll be spending less money to obtain this wood,” he said.

In December the school district hired a local contractor and vendor liaison for the construction of the high school, citing a commitment to use local contractors and materials in the project, which is set to break ground in June.

Gill said using the district’s own timber supply would be a great way to fulfill the goal. The attractive and natural-looking lumber that would result from the thinning would not be buried inside the walls of the new building, but finished and put on display in areas such as window frames, benches, railings or countertops, a visual reminder of the district’s local focus.

“That’s a really powerful story, kind of a legacy for the high school and the Island,” Gill said.

The district could even stand to profit from the project, depending on its scope, Gill said. Though the thinning could be costly — especially if invasive plants were dealt with at the same time — the timber not used in the high school could be sold for a high price.

Warren said he believes the Forest Stewards could harvest five or six truckloads of lumber from the campus — a good amount, but less than they collected from similar thinnings at Island Center Forest and Agren Park.

The school district is also looking into a grant from the King Conservation District that would offset the cost of the work.

“Are we going to break even, make a little money, spend a little money? We don’t know exactly where we’ll fall,” Gill said.

Superintendent Michael Soltman said he was glad the district was already making plans to include local work and materials in the project.

“It’s a source of community pride, and I think its an opportunity to show local craftsmanship. It’s one of the ways we can fulfill our promise about using local talent,” he said.


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