Brooklyn Elementary school administrators along with Comox Valley School District 71 officials are forcing the hands of parents, Town of Comox officials, Fire and RCMP authorities after a lack of planning on the part of SD 71 related to traffic safety at the new Brooklyn Elementary site has caused serious concerns about the safety of students.
The severe weather that marked the first day of school combining the current grade 4-7 student population with the K-3 students from the old Brooklyn site on Noel Avenue revealed that administrators had made a potentially life-threatening oversight in terms of traffic safety. A significant lack of parking left parents and students to fend for themselves, having to park illegally along Guthrie Road, crossing fast-moving traffic without the aid of crosswalks, school district supervision or guards to provide necessary safety in order to help their young children to get to their new space at the former Cape Lazo Middle School.
While administrators have long known that the Brooklyn population would increase by roughly 50% and there were already traffic safety concerns at the site, conceptual plans for modifications that would accommodate the increased traffic were not presented to the Town of Comox until just six weeks before the December 2011 holiday break by an SD 71 Director of Operations who knew he would be leaving at the end of 2011.
This comes on the heels of similar safety issues being raised at the high-traffic Ecole Robb Road and Mark Isfeld Secondary sites where the School District has demanded action from municipalities and RCMP officials instead of making the necessary modifications and hiring staff to ensure the safety of its students and families.
In an e-mail addressed to Brooklyn Elementary parents sent out Wednesday evening, co-principals Paul Berry and Sherry Kennedy deflected blame for traffic congestion at the new site by claiming that the Town of Comox and other agencies refused to cooperate in providing safety-related services at the school.
“From the beginning of our transition process, concerns for student safety were paramount. Both Senior District Staff and your Parent Advisory Council initiated dialogue with the Town of Comox regarding Guthrie Avenue almost two years ago. At the time we were told that Guthrie and the increased traffic resulting from our unification would be considered and addressed,” the e-mail stated. “Your PAC made very specific recommendations to the Town of Comox. To date none of the recommendations have been addressed.”
Comox Mayor Paul Ives and Town of Comox Chief Administrative Officer Richard Kanigan were contacted by me immediately following parents receiving the e-mail and began a consultation with town staff to see what, if anything, had been presented to the Town of Comox by SD 71 or the PAC. The following was Kanigan’s response:
(Former School District Director of Operations) David Barnes met with the Public Works Superintendent several months ago about a host of issues. He did mention at that time that they (SD-71) were in the process of selecting an Engineering firm to review the construction of additional on-site parking for Lazo (a.k.a Brooklyn). He did ask if the Town had any plans to expand the width of Guthrie fronting this school, and whether these plans could be modified to include “drop-off zones” . The answer to both these questions is no. There is insufficient right-of-way to create one or two lanes for parking.
As it stands, we only have sufficient room to complete the sidewalk on the opposite side to the school, a project that is no-where in our capital plan. It should also be noted that Guthrie Road is not at its ultimate design grade, thus any introduction of sidewalk in the area of Torrence Road, will necessitate regrading/rebuilding of a good portion of this alignment.
- Staff have not seen any “traffic” or “impact” assessment now or in the past two years regarding the effects of moving Brooklyn to this school
- The Town’s Capital Plan does not identify any funds or projects to make improvements to Guthrie
- The only PAC concerns ever raised regarded the pedestrian crossing at Torrence and Guthrie. Recommendations by our Traffic Study involved minor improvements to the signage and sidewalk layout, both of which have been completed.
- Boulevard (Traffic Study consultant) did suggest the introduction of pedestrian beacons at this cross walk would be appropriate if Brooklyn was to be moved to Cape Lazo. We can certainly do this, but it would achieve nothing toward the complaints or concerns now being raised over the circumstances fronting Lazo School itself.
There has been no application to the Town of Comox by SD 71 to obtain permits or move forward with improvements to ease the traffic congestion at the school. Consultation with the Town of Comox didn’t begin until November 9, 2011.
Berry was contacted by Town officials Thursday and sent out an e-mail to Brooklyn Elementary parents that evening retracting his previous comments regarding the Town of Comox.
“Let us apologize if we suggested in our previous letter that all the solutions to traffic concerns rests with the Town of Comox. This was not our intent,” Berry stated in the e-mail. “Certainly, Sherry (Kennedy) and I hold the responsibility for student safety at Brooklyn School and the School District is responsible for ensuring adequate and safe facilities, including traffic flow on our school grounds. Many of the concerns brought forward to us over the past few days were with respect to the volume and speed of traffic on Guthrie, inadequate warning signage, and safe areas for children to cross the streets. These concerns are out of the domain of the School District and should rightly be directly to police and municipal authorities.”
While Berry continues to assert that parking and safety along Guthrie Road is not a School District responsibility, the Town of Comox and RCMP traffic constables substantially disagree stating that they were never consulted, requests for signage, enforcement or cross walks were never made and that the School District, in the end, has failed to make the safety of its students and families primary at this site.
“The school district has refused to make any changes and has got to before a child gets killed,” said RCMP Constable Kevin Kimler in a conversation on Thursday. “They have never talked to us about traffic support and we literally cannot be out there to provide that.”
Kimler’s traffic unit has two full-time officers that serve the entire Comox Valley. Because of significant complaints from parents related to the Brooklyn site, his team was forced Thursday to issue warning tickets to parents parking in bike lanes on either side of Guthrie. Kimler said that if the complaints continue they will be forced to ticket and tow cars parked on either side of the road due to liability concerns from the RCMP perspective. That takes his officers away from major traffic accidents, hazardous intersections and other schools where the district has also not addressed major traffic safety issues including Robb Road and Isfeld, he said.
Towing means people will stop parking there. But, he said, this does not in any way alleviate the traffic safety concerns related to the site and does not provide parents with viable and realistic options to get their kids to their classrooms safely, with the support of a parent or guardian who can address their child’s personal needs, safety and concerns.
“This begins with the school district and an unwillingness to provide for the safety of these kids,” Constable Kimler said. It has never been the domain of RCMP to run or fund traffic control measures in and around school zones beyond regular scheduled enforcement. It has always been the responsibility of the School District.
The Town of Comox, as well, is not responsible for traffic and infrastructure-related issues created by the School District as a result of consolidation or expansion. “It is perhaps most troubling to see Mr. Berry asking parents to lobby the Town for improvements when clearly it is the School District’s own responsibility to address,” said Comox Mayor Paul Ives in an e-mail conversation. In his original e-mail, Berry told parents to contact the Town of Comox to voice their concerns.
Berry asserts that Brooklyn administrators and SD 71 officials are only responsible for traffic from the time a car turns off of Guthrie and into the lot at Brooklyn Elementary. Yet, SD 71 has not provided parents with adequate alternative parking. They have also created potential safety concerns as it relates to the ability for emergency vehicles to enter the parking lot in the event of a larger emergency.
Meanwhile, Berry also asserts that it should be the parents, government and law enforcement who are now responsible for addressing the traffic safety concerns. Administrators recommended early Thursday parking on already congested residential Torrence Road and Ridgemount Drive and walking the children 800 or so meters into school. Other recommendations include walking, carpooling or biking – again, unrealistic in bad weather – using a pledge to ease the burden on the environment as a mechanism to get parents to resolve the traffic issues.
New School District Director of Operations Ian Heselgrave, former manager of operations at the Comox Airport, was contacted on Thursday regarding plans for traffic management at Brooklyn and said that he was not up to speed on the current status of the project, having only been on the job since Tuesday.
Meanwhile, parents are receiving a barrage of conflicting information, having never been informed that it was illegal to park along Guthrie Road. Indeed, parents were not informed of parking, drop-off or pick-up options until less than 15 hours before Tuesday’s school start when an e-mail was sent at 5:30 p.m. Monday. It recommended parents simply drop their children off at the front door or they use the lot, with roughly 30 parking spaces, to park and enter the building. Parents of K-3 students had long parked along both sides of Noel Avenue at the old Brooklyn site and were actively involved in the hands-on drop-off and pick-up of their young children. When they arrived in the pouring rain Tuesday morning to a packed parking lot, they simply parked along the roadway, had to make do and cross the road.
When an e-mail was sent out lambasting parents for making the best in a situation where they weren’t given any options, they reacted by inundating the RCMP and Town of Comox with complaints.
As late as Thursday night, parents were receiving updates that previous recommendations made by administrators for alternatives to parking along Guthrie were just as dangerous, if not more so. It revealed that they were simply shooting from the hip without knowing what the Brooklyn site and the neighborhood around it could realistically accommodate.
“As this (Ridgemount Drive) is a residential street the increase in traffic represents a significant risk to our children walking to school. There are few lots that have parking adjacent to them and the street is not set up for drop off and U-turns which would occur,” the e-mail, sent at 7:30 p.m., stated. “Ridgemount is not within the “school zone” area and encouraging parents to drop off in this area will involve unsafe speeds much greater than 30km/h (as this is a 50km/h zone with speeds in excess of this). In addition the crosswalk from Ridgemount across Guthrie is not set up with flashing lights and so far this week we have witnessed excess speed across the crosswalk, failure to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk and parking on the crosswalk itself.”
This issue will be addressed at the Brooklyn Elementary PAC meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9 at the new Brooklyn site. Expected to be added to their agenda as well, the SD 71 Board of Education meets at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 in the School Board Office Board Room, 607 Cumberland Road in Courtenay.
You can contact the Brooklyn Elementary administrators through school secretary Kathleen Bell at [email protected]
Category: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT