(School-zone beacon near Boren, now fully operational; photo courtesy Robin Graham)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Next school year, the former Louisa May Boren Junior High School on Delridge will be home to two schools – ongoing permanent home to K-5 (future K-8) STEM, and starting its two-year status as temporary home to Arbor Heights Elementary while AH is rebuilt.
That’s 800 or so students filling the campus, plus their teachers and other staffers.
Space in the building is not much at issue. Safety is – specifically, safely getting all those students to and from school, which fronts one of West Seattle’s main arterials, Delridge Way, a much-used route to and from the two bridges across the Duwamish River connecting the peninsula with downtown.
Though this is the second year K-5 STEM has occupied the building, it is only now getting something as simple as flashing beacons to catch drivers’ attention in the 20-mph zone. The beacons just began operation, and SDOT’s Brian Dougherty says that when Arbor Heights moves in this fall, the lights will be programmed to reflect the staggered times both schools will be in session on the campus.
The lights are welcome, but nowhere near a full solution.
When we followed up with Dougherty at an unrelated recent community meeting, he also said a crosswalk to Boren’s front door is expected to be built next calendar year. That’s another of the things parent and community activists have been asking for. Among them is Craig Rankin, who tells WSB that a Neighborhood Park and Street Fund proposal is in for not just the basic crosswalk that now is in the city’s plan but “a central crosswalk with a median pedestrian island, and the installation of permanent speed-reader boards or School Zone Traffic Cameras.” This proposal, with accompanying letters of support from neighborhood and school groups, will be reviewed along with five other fund applications from eastern West Seattle at next Wednesday’s meeting of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council.
The Boren school building’s needs were articulated again when the Seattle Schools Traffic Safety Committee convened at Boren in late January. It’s a somewhat-low-profile (try finding its agendas!) committee that Dougherty described as a cooperative effort between the city and the school district to address isues; walking/biking-safety organizations are at the table too. In addition to discussing other business, the committee took time during the meeting to hear from and talk with school and community representatives, including STEM principal Dr. Shannon McKinney.
Attendees had spent time right before the meeting observing the situation along Delridge, Juneau on the north side of the school building, and in the parking lot. “A lot of speeding, a lot of near-misses … parents in general would argue that it’s scary to cross the street, like a game of Frogger,” observed STEM PTA president Robin Graham.
And that, again, is with just one school on campus. Many logistics of the campus-sharing remained to be worked out – even a question of where the Arbor Heights office would be. Dr. McKinney suggested that locating it at the opposite side of the building would help – the STEM office is on the south side: “*My biggest concerns, I’ve seen too many parents drag their kids across Delridge at the end of the day, I’m really concerned about next year, parking, with another school here, another staff.”
At Boren, parking-lot safety is a major issue because it’s a long lot, and a safe walking route from parking space to school door is not a sure bet. A walkway along Delridge on the west edge of the parking lot was overgrown with moss by the day of the committee meeting. North of the lot, that side of Delridge becomes a “wall of school buses” at pickup and dropoff time, though it was suggested that’s actually a speed deterrent for other traffic.
While STEM community members supported one goal of getting more students to arrive in ways other than cars, parent Kathleen Voss called attention to the fact it’s not easy to get to Boren from other neighborhoods. Coming from High Point, for example, she noted that the Graham Street stairs “are not well maintained” – crumbling, slippers, lights not always functioning, drug paraphernalia and liquor bottles left along the stairs. But it’s the only way to get between HP and STEM, she said, since SW Brandon has stretches without sidewalks. She voiced frustration that while the problems had been brought up before the school opened in 2012 – speeding on Delridge, the need for a crosswalk – here they sat two years later without solutions. Parents stood along Delridge in K-5 STEM’s first weeks of operation, providing a reminder to drivers:
(September 2012 photo, courtesy John Hopkins)
“The time for (safety improvements) is now,” Rankin told the committee, with community-gathered data indicating “6,000 midblock crossings this year alone.” The crosswalk case is bolstered by the impending addition of middle-school grades to STEM – students even more likely to be crossing Delridge by themselves, it was pointed out.
The layout of the 82-space parking lot is also a point of concern but changing it would be an expensive process – with funding not readily available in anyone’s budget – so talk has focused more on a way to walk through it safely. “We need to guide people through a long, narrow parking lot,” as one parent put it.
But another point of the parents in attendance at that committee meeting was to wonder why this advocacy seemed to have fallen to them: “How much of this is district responsibility? If you open an elementary school, why is so much of this parental responsibility?”
The district rep mentioned a budget shortfall.
“Is there a lawsuit fund?” was the parental retort. “It seems like a child has to get injured for something to happen immediately.”
While that meeting moved on to other topics, the Boren concerns remain unsettled. What can you do? Rankin has been speaking to local community advocates about the issues and tells WSB, “In general, I feel it would help matters for individuals to write city council members to prioritize pedestrian projects in school zones. In particular, I feel that this site desperately needs improvements before the start of the next school year.”
Urging the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council to support the enhanced crossing-safety project when they review projects at 7 pm Wednesday (March 19th, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, 4408 Delridge Way SW) is another step – the review process is competitive, and the city does not have enough in its fund to take on all projects that are proposed; the DNDC makes its recommendations, and then elected officials have the eventual final say. There is no central e-mail contact for the DNDC, comprised of volunteer members from community councils and other groups in eastern West Seattle, so the best way to advocate is to be at the meeting, but if you absolutely can’t, you can try forwarding comment correspondence through neighborhood-district coordinator Yun Pitre at email@example.com.
As Rankin also notes, “Of course the best way to keep children safe is for our community to drive slower and be more conscientious of pedestrians.” With lives at risk, though, a little infrastructure improvement can go a long way.