Dear Maryknollers,

I write to you to let you know that we understand your love of the pine tree.  Yes, it is an icon that brings memories and stories to the fore.  It is also a landmark for the many people who walk or ride by.  We are blessed to have a beautiful campus.

However, the Sisters and some SMC members have been concerned over the tall leaning tree and asking the Primary School Principal, Mrs LO to remove it two years or so ago.  However, Mrs LO, like many of you, saw it as an icon for our school and stalled while keeping a close watch on it via the gardener.

Then matters came to a head in October 2008 when Lands Department referred to our school a complaint letter about the tree.  Mrs LO immediately set about getting experts to examine the tree.  In sum, the sequence is as follows:

On 20 November 2008, manager of Conservancy Association and a certified arborist Mr KS SO advised that "the tree was low in failure potential but the school had to closely monitor the tree and the root system, and to measure regularly the cracks and the degree of leaning and ground lifting".

On 10 December, also a certified arborist Mr Sammy AU advised that "the rooting space was inadequate to support a tree of that size and might lead to instability of the tree in strong wind.  The resin exudation in many parts of the tree suggested that the tree had been attacked by insects or termite.  The internal attack would weaken the tree in terms of structural integrity.  The tree was considered a Hazard tree and was recommended for removal".

On 5 February 2009, Mr SO returned and advised that "the tree had no significant internal structural problem.  However, the amount of cracks and dried resins significantly increased.  Daily monitoring was to be carried out".

On the mention of "termite", Mrs Helen YU suggested to Mrs LO that we get a pesticide specialist in to test the tree.  Here is where Mr David LEE of Pesticides Services Co Ltd and Professor CY JIM of HKU are introduced to the school.

About March or so, Mr LEE came and advised that the tree was free from termite but seemed to be spitting much resin.  In any case, he considered close monitoring against termite attack advisable.

On 9 March, Professor JIM examined the tree and on Mrs LO's arrangement, met AMO officers (who happened to be at the school for a meeting).  In my view, this is quite appropriate as Professor is the expert on living heritage and AMO on architectural & cultural heritage.

Professor JIM advised against grounding support for the tree for fear of damaging the roots.  He suggested holding the tree with strong cables anchored to the walls of the school building.  AMO opposed this straightaway as it would ruin the walls in case the tree fell.  Professor proposed the alternative of placing a large cement supporter on the roof nearby for holding the cables.  AMO undertook to check the loading.

On 22 May, AMO advised that a large cement supporter might ruin the structure of the building.  As the authority for monuments, they would not approve it and advised consideration of other options or removal of the tree.

On 31 May, Sister Jeanne met Mrs LO and said that the tree was seen to be increasing its degree of leaning.  This was a serious problem and the tree had to be removed: if it fell on the building, it would ruin the heritage monument; if it toppled over Waterloo Road, cars and passers-by could be endangered and there could be heavy casualties.

These circumstances have led to Mrs LO re-visiting the SMC view some two years ago.  In that context, she addressed the District Lands Office since the Lands Department had raised the matter with the school in 2008.  The rest is history: I must emphasise that the MCS Foundation Council and FSA learned the sad news and had no role in the developments cited above.

If you look at the cover of ‘Forever be True’ and walk or ride by the school, you will see how much the tree is tilting after 70 years.  I walk to school everyday.  I have been looking at the tree for the past several years. There has been a decided change in the leaning of the tree.  Typhoons are natural disasters that cause severe damage. Our concern is that the tree might be in the path of a typhoon.  Trust me that removing the tree was one of our saddest decisions to make.

I hope each of you understand how carefully we have cared for MCS primary building and grounds.  After the tree is removed, another tree will be planted in the similar spot, and students can witness its growth.  In thirty or forty years' time, the tree will be about the same size today, but with better harness and supports in place.


Sister Jeanne Houlihan

N.B. We would not like to see Sister Jeanne's letter appear on FACEBOOK or TWITTER.  This is strictly for our family only.



Yesterday morning, Sister Jeanne (representing the Maryknoll Sisters and MCS Foundation), Mrs Josephine Lo (the School) and Mrs Helen Yu (as alumna and Supervisor) met Government officials from multiple departments and reached consensus to explore measures to salvage the 'icon tree'.

The joint press statement issued about 6:00 p.m. yesterday via the Government Information Services Department is forwarded for information.

The Government and the management of Maryknoll Convent School have reached a consensus to explore all possible preservation options for an Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine) tree at the school site. In this connection, Maryknoll has decided to suspend the tree felling originally scheduled for July 27.

Representatives from the Development Bureau, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department including its tree team and Antiquities and Monuments Office, and the Architectural Services Department met with the school management today (July 21) to exchange views on the issue.

At the meeting both the Government and Maryknoll shared the common goal of ensuring the safety of students and the public, and preserving the tree without posing any adverse structural impact on the school building, which is a declared monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance.

Maryknoll attaches importance to heritage conservation as demonstrated in its co-operation and support for the declaration of the school building as a monument by the Antiquities Authority last year. The school management also views the tree as an icon of the school and part of its "living heritage". They had therefore been taking advice from different tree experts on the tree's health and stability over the months.

"We love the tree, but our prime concern has been, and remains, its threat to our pupils and to public safety. There is, of course, also the moral and legal liability for loss of life and limb should the tree topple over," said Sister Jeanne Houlihan, Regional Representative of the Maryknoll Sisters.

The tree team from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has examined the tree and found it in a stable and healthy condition with no immediate danger. Nevertheless, both parties agreed that any measures to stabilise the condition of the tree must, above all, minimise the potential risk to public safety.

At the meeting both parties agreed to explore options to be proposed by a consultant to be engaged by the Government. When devising the stabilisation options, the consultant must take into account the safety of students and the public, and conservation of the tree should not damage the integrity and outlook of the school building. Other suggestions, including transplanting the tree to an open area for public appreciation, and planting in situ a tree of the same species, may also be considered.

The Government has pledged to extend to the school the necessary expert advice and assistance, with arrangements to be made to monitor the tree's health and stability closely.

The management of this tree illustrates the difficulties in arriving at a consensus on tree conditions and assessed risks while ensuring public safety where the tree is located in areas with heavy pedestrian and traffic flow.

These are the areas identified for improvement and action in the Report of the Task Force on Tree Management published on June 29 this year.