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    A map of the proposed site of a new elementary school shows routes students could take to school, including potential development of the former Missouri Pacific railroad trail. It’s a little too early to know how the area might be improved if the school bond issue passes, but city and school district leaders already have started discussions.
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    A concept drawing shows how buses and vehicles could be separated at a new elementary school. What the school might look like and where it would be located on the site, if selected, could vary from this drawing. SJCF ARCHITECTS

Safety factors in school design

The Iola Register

“Society itself has changed. Just about everyone is driving a vehicle and dropping kids off. You have increased traffic volume around schools that were never truly intended to have that."

-Iola police chief Jared Warner

A new elementary school’s design will incorporate safety features to better accommodate school buses and parents to transport students, and city officials plan to study area streets, sidewalks and traffic so that students can safely walk to school if voters approve an April 2 bond issue.

That’s the short answer to Karen Gilpin’s question, “How safe would it be for kids to walk to the new school?” 

Gilpin submitted the question as part of a new weekly feature, “Ask the Register,” where readers can submit questions as well as vote on those they would like to see answered. Answers are researched and reported in the newspaper.

But like most questions, the answer to Gilpin’s isn’t so simple. For one, many details remain unknown unless and until a bond issue were to pass. For example, steering committee members studying USD 257 schools have identified the site at Kentucky and Monroe as their preference for the new school. It’s possible the site will not work out, though efforts to secure the estimated 15 acres and obtain estimated costs for soil remediation are already underway.

The school’s exact location on the site, and its design in general, also have not been finalized.

“It’s hard to tell how far to look into the future when the bond hasn’t been passed yet,” Savannah Flory, a member of the committee working on the school project, said. “We want to be wise with district funds and not spend too much until we get concrete answers,” such as passage of the bond issue.

 

THE DESIGN of the new school would feature separate driveways for buses and regular traffic. A bus loop, perhaps located on one side of the building, would not be open to individual vehicles dropping off students. Because the new elementary school would combine students now attending McKinley, Jefferson and Lincoln elementaries, more staff such as paraprofessionals would be available to direct and monitor traffic, Flory said. 

For students who walk, it’s likely crosswalks could be added to traverse Kentucky Street. Savings from consolidating three elementary schools could including funding one or two crossing guard positions, if the district determined such a need, Flory said.

A previous study conducted for the failed 2014 school bond issue estimated about 15 percent of elementary students walk to school. That was before the district switched from neighborhood schools to grade-level attendance centers. Having all elementary students, pre-K to fifth grade, under one roof might encourage more students to walk because older students could escort younger ones.

For students who need to cross U.S. 54 highway at Kentucky, the intersection already includes a push-button crossing system. Another option for students who walk is to improve part of the long-abandoned Missouri Pacific railroad trail that intersects with Kentucky, giving students a traffic-free path through the middle of town. 

City administrators are scheduled to meet with SJCF Architects, the firm tasked with leading the project, in coming weeks to discuss infrastructure needs. That discussion could include consideration of whether a turning lane might be needed on Kentucky Street to the school. Typically, those improvements are the responsibility of the developer, but the city council could be asked for their input and subsequent help.

 

BECAUSE THE existing schools are located in residential areas with limited parking and limited room for buses, traffic is a constant frustration, said Jared Warner, Iola police chief.

“Society itself has changed. Just about everyone is driving a vehicle and dropping kids off,” Warner said. “You have increased traffic volume around schools that were never truly intended to have that.”

Police officers regularly patrol around the schools, especially in the mornings and afternoons at peak drop-off times. Officers concentrate on the schools at the start of the school year to monitor potential problems and educate motorists and students. 

“One of the things we try to get stopped as quick as we possibly can is when parents drop off on the opposite side of the road and the kids are crossing right in front of vehicles. That’s very dangerous,” he said.

With three elementary schools, a middle school and high school, it can be difficult to find necessary manpower for that kind of enforcement, Warner said. Consolidating the elementary schools would reduce the number of places police need to monitor. 

Warner anticipates the school safety committee will discuss the issues in more detail if the bond issue passes in April.

 

VOTING for the next “Ask the Register” question runs until midnight Wednesday. 

The questions:

— I would like to know how teachers feel about a new building and the benefits from teachers’ perspectives.  — Dimity Lowell, Iola

 — Chanute reported that a Braums was to open there. That was over a year ago. No construction has begun. What’s up?  — Melanie, Iola

 — I’m wondering how the partial government shutdown is affecting our National Guard unit.  — Mary Kay Heard, Iola

To vote on which question you’d like to see answered, just visit Ask the Register.

The Iola Register

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Iola, KS 66749
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