Tree house poses risk to school

Vandals apparently using perch to damage scoreboard on football field

— When a few Hayden youngsters set out to build a tree house this summer, they had no idea their castle in the leaves would be a place for anything but fun and creativity.

But the tree house has unfortunately become a source of irritation for town and school officials who are concerned students are using it to vandalize Hayden High School's scoreboard.

Town Board members decided at Thursday's Town Board meeting that the tree house, which sits just east of the football field, should be torn down after agreeing it was being abused as a perch from which to aim slingshots at the scoreboard.

The numerous dents in the scoreboard reveal how many rocks have hit the scoreboard, Hayden Athletics Director Bob Preator said.

"We've had this problem in the past," Preator said. "We don't really know how or why it happened. Who did it is entirely somebody's speculation."

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Haskins said he is disappointed his sons, who put so much work into building the tree house, must now tear it down.

"It kept them so busy this summer, and they were really proud of it when they finished," Haskins said. "It taught them the value of hard work. It's too bad they have to see it go."

Haskins said he understands the tree house poses a liability for the town and must be removed before it hastens any more vandalism or injury.

But he cannot understand, he said, why older children who had no part in building his sons' tree house want to use it for destructive purposes.

Once someone raises a concern about safety, the town becomes liable for anything that might happen to people who use the tree house regardless, Haskins said, of their intent to cause harm.

The tree house sits along Washington Avenue's right of way.

"We've been made aware of the problem," Haskins said. "Now we are responsible for it because the tree sits on city property."

The cottonwood on which the tree house rests is well known for its tendency to get in the way of things.

The tree stands behind the fence that surrounds the track and football field, but its branches reach so far as to drape the bleachers and some of the track, Preator said.

"It's a huge tree," he said. "We keep trimming, and it keeps growing."

Its advantageous location, only 50 yards from the scoreboard, has afforded many opportunities for students to make their mark on the scoreboard, Preator said.

Praetor, who will retire this year after 26 years, said the tendency for older children and teen-agers to damage what is not theirs has not changed.

"They're still the same kids," he said. "It's frustrating, but we're not immune to it. They've used arrows in the past. They throw rocks today. We deal with it."

Police Chief Jody Lenahan brought the issue before the board Thursday.

The scoreboard seems to be the most recent favorite target for vandalism, Lenahan said.

Hayden High School's Sept. 29 home football game was played without a working scoreboard because of damage caused when rocks were thrown at the scoreboard, he said.

The school district had to pay $465 for the necessary part, which could not arrive in time for the game.

"It's become a problem, and now we've got to tell these kids to take down their tree house," Lenahan said.

"It's too bad because these kids aren't the ones who are using their tree house to damage property."

The scoreboard is up and running now, and town and school officials are hoping it will stay intact so long as the vandals are without a tree house from which to throw rocks.

Town Manager Rob Straebel said he is sorry that well-meaning children must be the recipients of the board's decision to do away with their tree house.

"It's unfortunate that it had to be a liability issue," Straebel said. "Maybe we should tell kids to check with the town first before building anything fun. It's got to be disappointing for them."

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