By Sue Botos
The Rocky River Public Library Board of Trustees is looking to mend fences with middle school parents over the installation of a controversial gate between the library and school parking lots.
At last week’s trustees meeting, President Audra Bednarski announced that the group would be voting on conducting a joint traffic study, along with the Board of Education, to assess the safety issues surrounding parent use of the library parking lot as a student pickup and drop-off zone. The measure was approved during the business portion of the meeting.
The library installed the gate, which would be locked for about an hour at the beginning and end of the school day, as a last-ditch effort to discourage parents from using the lot. Recently, a staff member and two children, one of whom had been dropped off in the library lot, were nearly hit by cars.
Due to the sewer construction project on Hampton Road, the gate has yet to be closed.
“We will direct the safety experts to seek cooperation and input in public meetings from not just the Library, but all other stakeholders in this situation, Middle School PTA parents, the Rocky River School district administration and board, Rocky River residents, library patrons and, once again, the City of Rocky River administration,” Bednarski stated in a letter to library patrons.
According to information provided by the library, the traffic trouble had been brewing since 2006, when, during the library’s renovation, people moved construction barricades in order to pick up and drop off students.
Throughout the following years, various measures, such as signs, traffic cones, the creation of a fire lane and a police presence in the lot, have been ignored. According to library officials, staff members stationed in the lot to help control traffic have been “verbally abused.” In 2010, fliers were distributed to drivers dropping off students, inviting parents to a meeting at the library to discuss the use of the middle school and library parking areas. There was no response to the fliers, and no meeting took place.
A timeline provided by the library noted that the original idea for the gate came from city officials. It stated that in August 2011, library Director Nick Cronin and Deputy Director Jamie Mason met with city engineer Mike Mackay and then safety-service Director Jim Linden, who felt that traffic flow in the limited space could not be improved. They recommended placing a gate and fence between the two lots to end the pickup and drop-off dilemma.
Most of the audience at the trustees meeting, which was made up of parents, library neighbors and school officials, were not “on the fence” when it came to opinions about the gate.
Crossing guard and middle school employee Ann Opett stated that she had witnessed parents on cellphones speeding into the library lot, which, she added, had “too many blind spots to keep the children safe.” She said the middle school now has a student safety patrol, put in place after the number of crossing guards was reduced. Opett noted that this helped make the middle school lot safer. “The gate should be closed for the safety of my children, who are their children,” she stated.
Neighbors of the library also spoke in favor of the gate. Herb Harpster commented that more children should be encouraged to walk or ride bikes to school, thus cutting back on the number of cars at the beginning and end of the day.
Parent Kathleen Haley, who has headed up the opposition to the gate, stated that closing the gate would force children into an even more dangerous intersection at Riverview Road and the library driveway, as they walked around the fence to reach the library. “Kids shouldn’t suffer for parents behaving badly,” she stated. She and other parents suggested a monitored crosswalk between the library and school as a solution.
Joanne Morscher, parent of a Goldwood student, warned the board to listen to the solutions offered by the parents. “They’re bringing you resolutions, so you should listen. If you don’t listen, they won’t come” to the library, she admonished.
The crosswalk idea was supported by Superintendent Michael Shoaf, who said he was addressing the trustees as a “resident, superintendent and parent.” He pointed out that during the morning drop-off time, between 8 and 8:15 a.m., the library is closed. “Instead of looking to close (the lot) we should embrace it,” he said, adding that the safety patrol could be used to supervise the situation.
“I encourage the library to visit that idea,” he suggested.
The joint traffic study is estimated to cost about $10,000. School board member Jay Milano stated that funds are available through the federal Safe Routes to School program. He said that so far, the situation has been “anecdotal.”
“Let’s get some professional data on this,” he stated.