Concerns about student safety and parking at two proposed elementary schools dominated debate at Red Deer’s municipal planning commission meeting on Wednesday.
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools and Red Deer Public Schools each plans to build a kindergarten to Grade 5 school in northeast Red Deer. The Catholic project is slated for the Clearview Ridge subdivision and will accommodate up to 500 students; the public school will be located in the Timberlands subdivision and have space for up to 600.
Both proposals received development approval from the commission, but not without strong objections from two members.
Larry Thomsen, a citizen representative on the commission, argued that the design of the student drop-off zones at both schools would create hazards because some youngsters will end up crossing a busy street to reach their school.
“I don’t think adequate provision has been made for safety of students,” he said of the Catholic school proposal. “I can’t support something where we deliberately put kids in harm’s way.”
Thomsen was even more strident in his opposition to the public school layout, which includes designated student drop-off zones on both sides of Timothy Drive, south of the school.
“We’ve got a horrendous situation with respect to student safety.
“We’ve got the situation where we’re forcing students to cross traffic.”
Thomsen said he was “amazed” the city’s Engineering Department hadn’t taken steps to address the issue.
City manager Craig Curtis defended the handling of the applications, stressing that student safety was of “paramount importance” to the municipal departments involved and to the school districts.
He pointed out that student drop-off zones were not even included in the plans for previous city schools, and suggested that the school districts had done a good job in planning these ones.
“I don’t think it’s fair to describe this as a horrendous situation. I think this is a practical solution.”
Councillor Buck Buchanan said he was also worried about student safety, and concerned about traffic congestion during busy drop-off and pick-up periods. He referred to negative feedback from residents near existing schools with traffic and parking problems.
“I think we are setting ourselves up for issues down the road.”
Engineering Services director Frank Colosimo said it wasn’t practical to insist on enough parking space to handle all the needs of brief peak periods. With respect to students crossing the street, he pointed out that most children that age will be accompanied by their parents.
It was also pointed out that the schools will have safety features like crossing guards and traffic awareness programs.
Mayor Morris Flewwelling said he felt everything was being done that could practically be done to safeguard students.
“A kid could be hit crossing any street at any time.”
The development applications for both schools first came before the commission on May 23. They were tabled so that the architect and school boards could produce more detailed drawings, and consider ways to address concerns about the student drop-off areas.
Both developments were approved by a vote of five to three on Wednesday, with Thomsen and Buchanan the dissenters.
The province announced funding for the schools last May. They are to be constructed and maintained as P3 (public-private partnership) projects.
The Catholic school, to be called Father Henri Vosin School, will be located at 60 Clearview Drive and measure 34,756 square feet. It will initially consist of 10 classrooms and two modular units, with as many as eight additional modulars possible for the future.
The public school, which will be situated at 300 Timothy Drive, will have 12 classrooms and eight modulars spread over 47,286 square feet, with the possibility of four additional modulars. The school will also house a new branch of the Red Deer Public Library.