One Day, One School: One Great Idea

Some years ago, Thomas “Ace” Gallagher of neighboring Hanover Township was in the habit of walking his son to elementary school each day. Gallagher wanted his son to be safe.

But as he looked up one day from the path they took to school, he was alarmed.

The reason: To Gallagher's experienced eye as the owner of a stump grinding business, he could see dead branches hanging over the path, along with dead trees.

Suddenly the walk to school didn't seem so safe.

Gallagher did something about it. He wrote to the school superintendent, volunteering his company's tree services. He didn't know it, but he was launching “One Day, One School .”

The idea: One day of volunteer work can do wonders in making school grounds cleaner and safer.

Soon, Gallagher found a like-minded partner in Rick Close, district manager of the Davey Tree Expert Company in Morris Plains . Now they had the wherewithal to climb trees and prune dangerous dead limbs, remove dead trees entirely, and grind down the stumps.

All of this caught the attention of Scott Eveland, a councilman who was running for mayor last year in Florham Park .

Eveland had been championing shared services to reduce costs to taxpayers. He had a project in mind for Gallagher and Close: removing dead trees, rotting limbs, undergrowth and debris from the area around a ball field at the Ridgedale Middle School .

Gallagher and Close went for the idea. So did Florham Park Superintendent of schools William Ronzitti, who knew the proposed work was beyond the means of the local school budget. Ad date was set for last June.

Ronzitti and Eveland weren't going to leave all the work to Gallagher and Close, however. They set about mobilizing student volunteers, and public works trucks. The idea was once the professionals had taken care of any dangerous trees and branches, the volunteers would move in and clean up the area. It wasn't just a case of fallen limbs and undergrowth either—there was a lot of jus plain trash in the woods bordering the ball field.

About a week before the cleanup date, high winds brought down a tree limb about a foot in diameter, crashing near the bleachers where parents frequently sit to cheer on the young athletes. Ronzitti realized “One Day, One School ” was coming just in time.

The eight-hour project day transformed a mess into safe, attractive grounds. Nearly 40 trees were pruned for safety and another 15 or so trees were removed. Students cleaned up litter and debris. Ronzitti cooked hot dogs for everyone on a grill. Not only did the school district gain free labor and equipment equivalent to a donation of about $10,000, but students also got a civics lesson, and the eight-hour day promoted teamwork.

It was all much too good to be a one-shot deal.

“One Day, One School ” is returning to Florham Park on Saturday, April 5. This time the project area will be the grounds of the adjacent Brooklake and Briarwood elementary schools off Brooklake Road . Four other tree service companies are joining Gallagher and Close in the effort. Student crews will not only clean up with rakes, but will plant new trees in shrubs native to the area under the guidance of naturalist Blaine Rothauser, chairman of the borough's Environmental Commission. So along with the civics lessons, students will get an education in biodiversity. Acting Police Chief Patrick Montuore will join Ronzitti at the grill. It will all go down between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. April 5, and as Mayor Eveland has pointed out, the lasting improvement “doesn't cost our taxpayers a dime.”

We applaud everyone involved with “One Day, One School ,” and encourage local residents and businesses to lend their support, as the Whole Foods market in Madison has by donating all the food for the day.