It was a distressing morning for staff and students at École Mt. Prevost Elementary, Wednesday. They arrived at school to see eight of the trees that were planted when the new playground went in this summer chopped down.
Principal Lise Pagé confirmed the destruction.
“Eight trees were sawed down. It is very sad for the children,” Pagé said, adding the school district’s operations department was quickly called to clean up the mess. “It was really upsetting for all of the students.”
Pagé said the school is working closely with the school’s Parent Advisory Council to come up with a solution.
“We don’t know yet what we’ll do with those trees,” she said. “They mean a lot to the students.”
Witness Kyle Hughes said he and a friend saw the alleged lumberjack.
“I was hanging out there with a friend last night at the playground just sitting there talking and some guy walked over towards one of the trees and I heard cutting noise,” Hughes said Wednesday. “So I yelled over to where he was, asking him what he was doing, and he said cutting an [expletive] tree and then threatened me with his hand saw.”
Hughes and his friend left the area and called police.
North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Krista Hobday said police aren’t sure whether it’s somebody with a grudge against the school or PAC, or if it’s more of a mental health situation.
“We’re unsure if there’s any mental health issues involved though he did do what we consider to be the very unusual in turning to threaten the complainant with a saw,” she said. “It was quite dark so we were unable to locate him,” Hobday said, noting that despite rumours, the suspect’s age is unknown.
“He’s kind of unpredictable. If you know him, come and let us know as opposed to approaching him,” Hobday added.
Buckerfields CEO Kelvin McCulloch has since offered to replace the trees for the school.
“We’re very pleased to do it. It’s not a huge cost, but it’s a huge issue, I think,” he said.
McCulloch said when he heard about what happened he knew he needed to act fast so that the school children could receive good news quickly after learning about the incident.
“So they don’t have to worry about it,” he explained. “They’re going to get new trees.”
But that’s not all.
“I said to them we should think about doing something maybe a little different and a little better so that the whole memory has changed of the event,” he said. “If we just put it back it doesn’t really erase that event at all.”
He said he’s left it up to the PAC to decide what they might like.
“I think what happened is appalling and it’s easily within our means to make that right,” he said.
It was a senseless act of vandalism but there are heroes in the community too, according to École Mt. Prevost PAC president Amber Marsh.
“It’s so frustrating to put so much work, heart and soul into a project to have it so senselessly vandalized,” she said. “We’re all reeling, but we live in such an amazing community. Buckerfields will be replacing all of our trees and restoring the playground and our spirit.”