I speak for the trees; I speak for the Palm Garden

Photo by Evelyn Lopez.

By Evelyn Lopez

Flagler College released an email to students and staff on March 1, stating that during spring break 2024, about 20 palm trees were to be removed from the Palm Garden to make space for the Ponce West dorm renovation work site.  

The statement included that an arborist confirmed that many of the trees were reaching the end of their life cycle, some with preexisting demo permits before the project was in action. The Palm Garden will be closed until the construction is complete, and the trees are supposed to be replaced after this.  

At the end of the day, I understand that the goal of the renovation is to create a better living environment for future students. However, I think that Flagler College is failing to see how this majorly affects their current students. Future benefits do not outweigh the inconveniences we are experiencing or the upset feelings that come along with the renovation.  

I watched a man in a “Tree Medic” shirt cut down two dozen palm trees on March 12.

I had a lot of questions regarding the Palm Garden and Renovation, so I spoke with the Vice President, Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Board of Trustees, Laura Stevenson Dumas.

“The reason the scaffolding and prep work is occurring now is so the Ponce West project can begin the moment students move out in May. If we waited until May to begin the site prep, then we would not be able to begin the renovation work until mid to late summer which would then endanger our ability to finish the project before the August 2025 move in. That is a deadline that cannot be missed,” Stevenson said.  

It feels like Flagler is choosing to prioritize future students over those who already attend the school. The overall renovation affects our life on campus, not just those enrolling in 2025.

There is the noisy machinery, the construction workers yelling at students on their way to class and the unavoidable shift in route that many people had to make when the fences were put up for the site.

The tree removal has caused reactions among many students that live on campus especially those who live in Ponce. 

Lydia Blood, a freshman here at Flagler College, understands why the trees were removed, but she expressed that this understanding doesn’t make the harsh reality any less harsh. 

“I understand that this construction was unavoidable, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it makes me sad to look at,” Blood said. “No one likes to see trees getting cut down or ripped from the ground.”

Even if the trees were “reaching the end of their life,” I don’t remember the last time we killed an 80-year-old human for this reason. Life is life, plants and animals included.  

I feel as though Flagler is not taking the opinions of the student body into account when making big decisions regarding Ponce. I don’t believe that they are prioritizing life, student, or plant, by destroying the small ecosystem which has existed in the Palm Garden for over 100 years.

In the 1920s, what was then known as Coconut Cove was the spot where hotel stayers met up and had tea. The solace of the cove has lived on, even as we now call it the Palm Garden.  

Photo by Evelyn Lopez.
A picture of the Palm Garden previously known as Coconut Grove in 1920. Photo courtesy of Flagler College archives.

On October 19, 2023, a public hearing was held and the city’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) granted permission for the removal of a portion of the site wall, trees, and pavement in conjunction with ongoing renovation.  

“The majority of the trees that were removed were at the end of their life cycle and were not salvageable. Those that were, were donated to University of Florida Historic St. Augustine (UFHSA),” Stevenson said. 

After receiving this information, I talked to a contact at UFHSA, who wishes to remain anonymous. He told me that no tree donations were given by Flagler College, or by the city of St. Augustine.  

I verified multiple times with Stevenson to make sure I didn’t have the wrong contact information, and only when I reached out to her for the third time did she claim that she gave me the wrong information.

Almost two weeks later she revoked her previous statements, professing that the trees were all too damaged to donate.  

That’s all I got. I was left with the image of a couple dozen sad palm trees lying, dead, alone, someplace unknown.  

The Palm Garden is a community space in which students can connect with each other, the environment and themselves. Studies show that a student’s sense of community is directly related to their academic success. The Palm Garden is a place on campus which promotes this success and the overall well-being in students.

The renovations will prohibit this until move-in day August 2025.  

I understand that the renovation was bound to happen, but that doesn’t change how it is affecting students, especially those who live in Ponce.

In my short time here at Flagler, I fell in love with the Palm Garden. Its versatility allowed me to complete my homework while my peers lounged on hammocks or ate lunch beside me. I think having spaces like this is important on campus, and they should be preserved. Flagler College chose not to do this.

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