HOWLAND - A proposal to keep middle-school students safer while walking to school brought concern from parents and faculty, who didn't care for the proposed construction of a new drop-off / pick-up area for middle-schoolers.
The new area was part of a plan devised by consultants funded through a $5,000 Ohio Department of Transportation grant. Proposed changes would cost $593,000 to reduce traffic congestion and promote a safe environment encouraging children to walk or bike to school.
The school, which sits behind the Howland Plaza, is essentially boxed in by East Market Street, state Route 46 and state Route 82.
Currently 102 students live within one mile of the school, but only 2 percent, about 14 students, walk to school. The Safe Routes to School Program hopes to increase that percentage.
After evaluating the school area, observing the arrival and dismissal of students, completing a walking audit and surveying parents, John Brigham, supervising traffic engineer, and the rest of the consultant team presented their findings and suggestions.
Brigham said the largest problems include congestion on Brewster Drive during dismissal, traffic signals deficiencies and heavy traffic on East Market Street.
According to the consultant's findings, 84 percent of parents said they would not allow their children to walk to school because of the speed of the traffic along the route, and 83 percent were concerned about the safety of intersections and crossings.
The consultants devised several changes to improve safety in the school's vicinity. Proposed physical changes included installing bike racks, correcting faulty crosswalk signals and converting the intersection of Willow Street, South Street and Brewster into a three-way stop.
The most drastic change proposed was installing approximately 175 feet of new sidewalk from the school's entrance on Brewster to the southeast high school parking lot as a new pick-up / drop-off location. The location would eliminate congestion at dismissal as well as lessen the number of parents illegally parking by the middle school. It also would require students to cross the heavily traveled East Market Street.
This proposed change was not well received by parents at the presentation.
"I think our parents' biggest concern is students crossing East Market," said Ann Marie Thigpen, Howland Local School District administrator.
"They don't want their children to walk seven feet," Virginia Stec said, "let alone to the high school."
Stec said she waits in the long traffic line on Brewster every day to pick up her grandchild.
Tina Slyk picks up her two children for medical reasons and said before she would agree to pick them up at the high school parking lot, she would need to see more details. She said she would prefer for more options to be explored on campus.
Non-infrastructure changes that were proposed included holding a bicycle rodeo and a Walk to School Day.
In addition, the consultants suggested stricter enforcement of illegal parking near the school and a "walking school bus." The walking school bus consists of a volunteer walking from house to house leading children to school on foot.
Hope Myers has a daughter in sixth grade who is within walking distance of the school. However, the fact that her daughter would be walking alone and crossing over busy streets deters her from allowing her child to walk.
"It only takes one weirdo," Myers said.
She said the idea of a walking school bus would work well in her situation.
The consultants will use the parents' suggestions to revise the plan. Funding for the revised plan will begin as soon as January, according to Kim Mascarella, township director of planning and zoning.