Children at St. Francis Borgia Grade School soon may no longer be able to play on Cedar Street.
The Washington Traffic Commission debated the school’s use of the street as a playground Friday morning. Concerned about safety, the commission agreed it may be best to not allow the children to play in the street.
Before taking any formal action, however, the commission said it wanted to meet and discuss the issue with the school’s administration. The commission said it would invite school officials to its November meeting to further discuss any changes.
Questions About Closure
The commission talked Friday about two related issues for Cedar Street. Currently the one block section between Second and Third streets is closed to traffic while school is in session.
To mark the closure, the school places three barricades at the intersections to prevent cars from traveling on Cedar Street at the school.
Last month, Fire Chief Bill Halmich said he was questioned about the closure. He said a resident wasn’t sure how Borgia was allowed to close the road and have kids playing in the street.
The first part of the question was easy to answer — a city ordinance allows the road to be closed during school hours. The second part was more of a challenge.
At Friday’s meeting, Washington Police Officer Mike Grissom said city ordinance prohibits playing in the street throughout the city with no exceptions. He said for at least 20 years, Borgia Grade School students have been allowed to play despite the rule against it.
The issue became a question of safety. While police reported no incidents in recent memory, the commission said it needed to take a proactive look at the safety issue.
If the city was going to allow students to play in the streets, the barricades currently in use were deemed insufficient. Last month all commission members agreed a wayward car heading down Cedar Street would have little trouble plowing through the barricades.
If anything like that were to happen, the city would be liable because it is supposed to prevent street playing.
To protect the children better, and to limit the city’s liability, the commission debated ways to improve the barricades, but kept running into problems.
Grissom said he looked into some used by federal buildings that would have a sufficient crash rating. He said those could cost the school between $80,000-$100,000.
As a less costly alternative, the commission suggested having teachers’ cars take the barricades’ place to block access.
Both Grissom’s barricades and the car plan had the same problem — emergency operations. Getting an emergency vehicle like a fire truck into the school zone would be a challenge.
With the new barricades, Grissom said someone would have to manually lower them or invest money in a hydraulic system. With the car wall, the teachers would have to be able to quickly clear the area.
Not really liking either option, the commission returned to the earlier question of why it allows the students to play in the street. Director of Public Services John Nilges said no matter how long it’s been going on, it sets a bad precedent.
The commission said other groups could request street access based on what Borgia is allowed to do.
Commission members agreed enforcing the current ordinance would have the biggest impact on safety. They said the street could remain closed, with the barricades in place, to allow students to move from one building to the next, but it would make sense to eliminate street playing.
Councilman Joe Holtmeier, who also is the maintenance manager for Borgia, said the school likely could find another place for the kids to play that’s safer. He said he would talk with the school’s administration about the issue. Grissom suggested the school officials come to the next meeting so everyone could be on the same page.