Ashland school building could claim an oak tree housing a soldier’s grave

ASHLAND – A towering oak tree housed the resting place of Revolutionary War veteran and Framingham resident Aaron Brown for over 100 years.

At 48, Brown died of smallpox on Jan. 18, 1793. Because of the fear associated with the disease, he was probably hastily buried, said Cliff Wilson, president of the Ashland Historical Society.

At the time, the land was on the outskirts of Framingham. Today the grave is located near the David Mindess School on Concord Street in Ashland. A memorial with a white picket fence and gravestone marks the spot.

The school is being rebuilt and when the work is completed, the burial site will be prominently displayed in front of the building rather than behind. But the shelter oak is unlikely to remain a victim of construction.

The tree, whose roots are already damaged by an existing concrete wall, will likely be compromised during construction, according to architect Bill Beatrice of Boston-based Flansburgh Architects. The entrepreneurs believe that cutting down the tree is the best option.

But this upsets some locals, who urge the tree to be saved. The precise location where Brown is buried is unknown, and several other soldiers are believed to have been buried nearby, according to Wilson.

Tree removal sparked interest after property walk

The topic of the tree removal sparked interest after a walk around the property by the Mindess School Project construction committee and conservation commission early last month. The walk was made to see the proximity of the new school to the wetlands and how the construction would impact them.

Among those in attendance was Cathy Rooney, a member of the Design Review Committee, a subcommittee appointed by the Planning Board, which helps make design recommendations on projects.

“We were all standing as a group,” she said. “I just said, ‘I was worried about the oak tree on the grave.'”

Rooney was unhappy when she heard that the tree would be cut down, and felt that efforts should be made to save the tree.

Planning Board members wonder if the building could be reconfigured to save the tree, but project managers say it would be costly and could significantly delay construction. Instead, they suggest reusing the wood from the tree for a bench or some other type of educational resource.

The town planning council will vote on a special permit for the project

Since July, the town planning council has met with the Mindess school construction committee for a special permit for the project. The future of oak was one of the main topics of discussion.

The planning board is meeting with the Mindess School Project Construction Committee again on Thursday in what may be the last time discussions are held before the board votes on the special permit.

At its last meeting on August 26, the town planning council discussed a vote in favor of the special permit with an agreement that the tree be felled and its timber incorporated into the architecture of the school or used in conjunction with a memorial, bench or plaque near the tomb.

The wood would also be distributed between the school committee and the historical committee for use on the site. Anything that remains could be used by the city for other projects.

The board is still figuring out the logistics of this plan.

Planning board member Anna Tesmenitsky asked why concessions couldn’t be made on an over $ 80 million project to try to save the tree – or at least have a conversation with the Massachusetts School Building Authority in this subject.

Mike Quinlan, of Compass Project Management, which is overseeing the work, said such a change would be costly and delay construction.

The MSBA is generally not interested in such discussions, he said. The agency is primarily interested in building designs to ensure they meet educational guidelines.

As to the possibility of other bodies being buried at the site, Wilson raised this concern at a previous Planning Council meeting. The construction company hired to carry out the project told him it would take all precautions. The Planning Council is drafting wording to specify what should be done if bodies are discovered during construction.

Letter asks Planning Council to “support the project as presented”

School committee chair Laura Tosti and Select board chairman Joe Magnani wrote a letter to the planning board on August 22 asking its members to drop discussions about saving the tree. and to “support the project as presented”.

“Raising concerns now about things that could have been dealt with earlier endangers certain aspects of the project,” wrote Tosti and Magnani. “In addition, the experts we work with have supported and advised our decisions.”

The letter says the review process has been expanded and open to public comment, including, but not limited to, 44 ​​town halls, eight community forums and two “vision” workshops.

“In closing, out of respect for the years of effort of the building committee and those they have hired as well as the thorough process undertaken to accept all contributions from all aspects of our community, we sincerely ask for your support. for the project as presented “, reads the letter. The letter was signed by Tosti on behalf of the school committee and four of the five members of the select committee. Selected board member Rob Scherer did not sign, who sent his own public comment to the planning board in support of his decision to inquire about saving the tree.

In an interview, Scherer said the city should continue to do everything possible to see how it can save the tree.

“I still have hope that we can build the Mindess School on time and on budget, while looking very carefully and thinking creatively and thoroughly to save the tree,” he said. he declares.

Selected board members Brandi Kinsman and Tosti spoke about the letter at the August 26 planning board meeting, calling it a “letter of support” for “the whole process.”

“I know in a public hearing process it tends to bring out the negative voices of a small but noisy minority who oppose a project,” Kinsman said. “The purpose of the letter was really to support the project, but also the process and all the work to get it where it is.”

She commended the Planning Council for its work.

Tosti said she agrees with Kinsman and appreciates the work of the board and everyone else in the discussion.

Conservation Commission member Carl Hakansson led efforts with the Ashland Historical Society to clean up the tomb ten years ago. He thinks cutting down the tree is a slap in the face.

The safety of the burial site was one of the first things he thought about when he heard that the school would be rebuilt. He felt reassured when he heard that proper precautions were going to be taken to keep the grave safe, but was unhappy when he heard that the tree was going to be felled.

“Cutting down the tree on the grave is not exactly a precaution,” he said.

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