Volunteer Clean Up Saves Taxpayers Thousands

Florham Pk. School Latest In One-Day Projects

By: David Zimmer 

Florham Park – Tom “Ace” Gallagher's One Day, One School program swept through the Brooklake Elementary School this weekend as volunteers removed a variety of nonnative plant species, countless limbs and around 50 trees to ensure the safety of the entire perimeter of the schoolyard.

The Saturday event possibly saved the school district “$50,000 to $60,000,” said John MacFarlane, the Florham Park board of education president.

Davey Tree Co., Woodland Tree Co., Honor Tree Co., and Ace Gallagher Stump Grinding LLC of Whippany spearheaded this weekend's event. In addition, more than 100 volunteers participated, including students, teachers and township officials.

“If there is one thing I have learned it is that there are a lot of cool people that are willing to give back and put in the time,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher established the One Day, One School program two years ago to help clean up local schoolyards by removing rotten trees, hazardous debris, and invasive species.

“It was hard to get this program off the ground,” Gallagher said. “But I felt people would give back if they had a vehicle.”

The beginning

Last June, two professional tree companies and more than 75 people participated in the first event. During the eight hours of work the group pruned approximately 40 trees in an effort that would have cost Florham Park at least $10,000, Gallagher said.

Since then, the One Day, One School program has gained the support of municipal officials and tree care professionals from across the nation.

Recently, the eight to 10 hour day of volunteer brush clearing has spread as far as Townsend , Montana .

“This is all about teamwork,” Gallagher said. “We are working on keeping the community safe and ensuring that everyone is pitching in.”

For the second event William Ronzitti, the Florham Park school district superintendent, asked Gallagher to help clean up the woods near the basketball courts for the safety of the students.

“I asked if he could do the one corner,” Ronzitti said. “He said we can do that in about an hour.”

“This is the way we do it around Florham Park ,” he said. “We are like one big family.”

During the event, the volunteers collected refuse, spread mulch, and created brush piles in and around the schoolyard as the tree professionals scaled heights to trim branches, and got dirty planting trees and removing stumps.

Working fun

“Never have people had so much fun working,” Florham Park Mayor Scott Eveland said. “But more than that, this is an investment for the kids in the future or their community.”

“Where else do you see a kid asking for a rake?,” Eveland said.

Amy Iandiorio, a 10-year old volunteer, spent most of the morning finding garbage and assorted refuse in the woods, including the old schoolyard slide.

“It's just horrible to see,” Iandiorio said.

More than being fun, this is something that needs to be done, she added.

“This is really for the young children in the community,” Ronzitti said. “They will remember this day for years to come and hopefully take pride in what they have done today and what they can do in the future.”

Backyard lesson

Adventive species in the area were removed, and native species were planted to revitalize the area in hopes of creating a more stable environment. In order to inform the children in the community, there were several presentations given about the benefits of maintaining healthy forests.

“The idea is to get people to be better stewards of their own backyards,” Blaine Rothauser, the head of Florham Park 's environmental commission, said.

The professional volunteers created a mix of mulch and brush from the limbs and trees they removed to put right back into the edge of the schoolyard. Birdhouses were also added to ensure there would be new habitats for all forms of life to replace those that were removed.

Florham Park Hardware donated rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows, and the national grocery chain Whole Foods supported the event by providing food, beverages and other supplies, Gallagher said.

The Florham Park 's Deputy Chief of Police and Vice President of the school board, Patrick Montuore commanded the grill dishing out hamburgers, hot dogs, and tuna steaks to dedicated volunteers.

“With the help of the council and the board of education, this has become something really outstanding,” Andrew Bassolino, a township employee, said.

Selling free service

A Hanover resident for the last four years, Gallagher sends his children to the school district where his mother taught for more than 28 years.

Gallagher originally decided to offer his time and resources to the local communities because he was concerned about the hazardous tree limbs that loomed above the path his 10-year-old son took to school.

Since he works with more than 80 landscaping companies and 10 tree trimming services, Gallagher said, he was confident he could establish a successful volunteer program that would spruce up local paths and schoolyards for free.

Gallagher said he knew that limbs needed to come down, but thought the township would not be able to pay for such an expense.

“Everything comes down to budget these days,” he said.

Then Gallagher contacted the township offering to remove the limbs on his own time. With support from superintendent of Hanover schools, Scott Pepper, the township granted his request.

Spreading the work

Recently, Gallagher invited Superintendent Pepper to decide what school they would like the One Day, One School program to target.

“It is all coming back to roost,” Gallagher said.

“After we do our third school next year, we want to take the program over to other communities,” said John Csatlos, Florham Park school district's business administrator. “We are dedicated to this, and we would volunteer at other schools as if they were our own.”

Hanover Council member Judy Iradi described Tom Gallagher as “an asset to Hanover ,” since he is using his own time and resources to improve the community when he could be making money.

“Hanover is a dedicated volunteer town, and both Gallagher and his program are good for this community,” Iradi said. “People are already talking about what has been done, and what will be done.”