A BATTLE is raging over the fate of a 100-year-old raintree within the grounds of the Ipoh Methodist Girls’ School (MGS).
The school alumni are fighting to save the iconic tree, which is featured on the commemorative badges made in conjunction with the school’s 120th anniversary in 2017, from being chopped down or relocated.
They point out that the theme of the anniversary, “Remembering roots, growing gloriously”, was being disregarded as the school board seems intent on getting rid of the raintree to make way for the building of a four-storey block and another three-storey block.
MGS alumna Linda Hanim Mustaffa said she rushed to the scene on July 4, 2018, upon hearing about attempts to remove the tree.
“I vividly remember the date because it was my birthday. When I reached there, the contractor was scratching his head, trying to find ways to cut the tree.
“He was acting under the instruction of the chairman of the school board, Dr Ting Cheh Sing,” she said when contacted.
She added that on the same date, a letter was issued by the Ipoh City Council (MBI) to project architect Ding Poi Kooi to stop the construction of the project.
The letter stated that construction had started without following the proper guidelines and requested for necessary documents and permits for the demolition to be provided, and a hoarding board for the project.
On July 6, MBI sent another notice, addressed to the secretary of Methodist Church trustee Datuk Cheah Loi Sin, which stated that under Section 35H of the Town and Country Planning Act, no person is allowed to fell a tree with a girth exceeding 0.8 metres without the permission of the local planning authority. The raintree at MGS, which is 8m high and 2m in diameter, falls under the section.
“After the notice, we sent letters and phone messages to the school and other parties about the tree. Neither Dr Ting nor the board responded,” said Linda.
On Aug 8, more than 500 alumni members signed a letter regarding the tree which was sent to the school board and the Methodist Council of Education but they did not receive any response from either party.Working towards a compromiseIpoh Timor MP Wong Kah Woh was roped in and he set up a meeting on Oct 30 with Dr Ting, the project architect Ding Poi Kooi and the alumni.
Linda said the parties, in the presence of Wong as well as MBI councillor Steven Tiw Tee Siang, agreed to compromise, with the alumni accepting that the tree had to be relocated.
“With the relocation, the school can carry on with its construction plan and the tree can be preserved,” she said, adding that the alumni were given an assurance that the school board would have qualified professionals to ensure the relocation was feasible.
“During the meeting, we had also requested the board to provide us with a detailed assessment and proposal from an arborist to be submitted to us and it was duly agreed by the board.
“However, barely two weeks after the meeting, I received a call on Nov 9 around 3pm that Dr Ting was reported to be at the site, instructing and overseeing the relocation of the tree,” she added.
She and Tiw headed for the site where they found a backhoe had trenched the base of the tree, and that the roots had been damaged by chainsaws.
When confronted, she claimed Dr Ting was unable to produce written approval by the council.
He also denied agreeing to provide an arborist’s report to the alumni.
Since then, Linda said the tree has been left unattended, its roots damaged.
She expressed her disgust with the school, saying that the school authorities chose to ignore the two MBI warning letters and instead behaved in an unlawful manner that could result in a fine of thousands of ringgit.
“The tree is an iconic monument to many of us. Three generations of my family are students of MGS – my mother, my daughter and myself. My granddaughters will be the fourth. The tree is an important part of the school,” she added.
Linda said the alumni managed to get their own report from an independent arborist on Dec 15, which stated that because of the relocation attempt on Nov 9, it was not recommended for the tree to be transplanted because of canopy loss and roots cut too near to the trunk as this would have hampered survival rates.
The report also stated that given its age, the tree should be allowed to remain at its current location with proper tree protection measures taken to ensure its longevity.
Relocation set to go on Tiw said the council received a report from an arborist hired by the developer a few weeks ago.
“Based on the report, we have agreed to the relocation subject to terms and conditions.
“The council will monitor the tree during the relocation and for the next four to five months after the procedure is completed,” he added.
When contacted, Dr Ting denied any wrongdoing, saying action to trim the tree was guided by a consultant horticulturist, as was the process of relocating it.
“The initial trimming in July was done to relocate the tree. We trimmed some of the branches but stopped after protests from the school’s former students.
“MBI requested us to send an arborist report which we complied with last December,” said Dr Ting.
He added that the tree is showing signs of life from the point where the roots were chopped.
“The branches are also growing; this indicates that the tree is still healthy.
“We will be conducting the same test on other roots to make sure that it is safe enough to relocate,” said Dr Ting.
“The relocation of the tree is necessary for the development of the school and right now, we are waiting for the council to help us relocate the tree,” he added.
A former MGS student, Lee Poi Mun, who is leading the alumni’s legal team, said they are not against the development of the school but are concerned about the tree, since it is an icon of the school.
“The tree cannot be cut down without the approval from MBI.
“The tree is a significant figure for all MGS students and teachers.
“We agree that development is important for the school but the tree must also be protected,” said Lee.