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Sticker shock: Saigon school boards caught off guard by whopping tree upkeep bills

Friday, July 03, 2020, 21:25 GMT+7
Sticker shock: Saigon school boards caught off guard by whopping tree upkeep bills
Old trees in a schoolyard at Marie Curie High School in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nhu Hung / Tuoi Tre

School management boards across Ho Chi Minh City are scrambling to readjust their budgets to account for the massive cost of reinforcing the trees on their grounds – a necessary expense to ensure student safety after a tree in a schoolyard fell and killed a student earlier this year. 

“I was shocked when Ho Chi Minh City Greenery Parks Co. Ltd. quoted us VND237,494,400 [US$10,284] to trim, prune, and chop the trees in our schoolyard,” said one member of the management board from Marie Curie High School.

“The high price caught both us and the students’ parents off guard.”

Skyrocketing costs

“There are dozens of trees on our grounds. Many of them are quite old and some have even passed the centennial mark,” said Nguyen Thi Que Van, vice-principal of Marie Curie High School.

According to Van, maintaining the trees is no simple task.

“Marie Curie High School is designed with an arched doorway, which means we can’t just drive a crane-truck onto the grounds. With some of our trees measuring more than 40 meters tall, getting workers that high without heavy machinery is extremely complicated,” she explained.

Ho Chi Minh City Greenery Parks initially offered a VND258 million ($12,000) price to maintain the school’s trees, but eventually agreed to slightly cut it to VND237 million.

Nguyen Thi Hong Chuong, principal of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai High School in District 3, said her school is facing the same issue as Marie Curie, with chopping down dead trees, planting new ones, trimming, and pruning eating up large chunks of the budget.  

An urgent need for public funds

The principal of a high school in downtown Ho Chi Minh City had more on her mind than just the cost of maintaining trees.

“Greenery maintenance should be regulated by the city, not just assigned to the principal,” she pointed out, adding that educators simply do not have the expertise to efficiently manage landscaping projects.

Instead, the principal suggested that the municipal Department of Construction charge specialized officers with coordination with schools to achieve better outcomes in maintaining their greenery.

Another high school principal in the city said the school contracted a private firm to periodically check and prune its trees.  

“After the incident [where a falling tree] killed a student at Bach Dang High School in District 3,  we invited a state agency which oversees greenery to give consultation and document the condition of our trees, but the agency charges much more than private firms to trim and prune them,” the principal said.

To soften the blow of greenery upkeep on school budgets, the principal suggested that the state provide full or partial funding to schools so that larger portions of their own funds can be channeled into education-focused initiatives.

Improper upkeep

In late May, Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Construction began working with relevant agencies to examine greenery management and care at 21 schools, concluding that the schools are not pruning trees correctly and many trees on the grounds have truncated branches which endanger the vitality of the trees.

According to the department’s report, tree branches can split when cut improperly and are at risk of falling and hurting students.  

Another issue the report identified is the way trees are planted at city schools. 

Most trees are grown in a ring with brick-walled edges built up from the ground to provide seats for students. This method creates a confinement, making it hard for their root system to branch out.

Others are planted in areas with little light, which can predispose them to become slanted and inhibit their growth.

In response to the schools’ funding request for tree maintenance, Le Hoai Nam, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Education and Training, noted that the agency was collecting opinions on tree maintenance and protection duties from schools.

"Afterward, it will cooperate with the Department of Construction and the Department of Finance to rectify the situation.”

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Xuan Tung / Tuoi Tre News

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