Getting to the first day of classes at Bernie Wolfe Community School was like nails on a chalkboard for some parents.
Students at the kindergarten to Grade 8 school opened their books on Sept. 4, the first day of classes since the CNR Redditt crossing on Plessis Road was shut down in late July. The crossing will be closed until December 2014 to allow for the construction of a $77-million underpass.
Though the City of Winnipeg has reiterated it is discouraging using Bournais Drive, on which the school is located, as a shortcut, motorists have disregarded the message. Bournais is the nearest crossing to Plessis, as crossings on Lagimodiere Boulevard and Ravenhurst Street are three kilometres and four kilometres away, respectively.
Bernie Wolfe principal Andy Zarrillo said the school has teamed adult crossing guards with its school-aged patrols for added safety, and has also boosted the number of staff working before and after school to make sure students are safely transported.
"We’ve anticipated an increase in traffic. We’re definitely prepared for it," said Zarrillo. "The traffic issue has been here before the closure of Plessis Road. Now, it’s more congested and people need to be more patient.
"I think we’ve done a good job making sure kids and families have been able to cross the intersection (at Bournais and Rougeau Avenue) safely."
Zarrillo said he didn’t notice much different about the patterns of students making their way to class, with no more late than usual at first blush. He noted the school’s location next to the railroad tracks has made tardiness an ongoing challenge for students.
"They can always call the school," Zarrillo said. "With the trains, we would have some of our school buses arrive late, and they would give us a heads up if they were going to be late. We’ve had to deal with that before."
Karen Dyck and husband Randy drove their son to school for the first day of Grade 6, to help him carry all of his supplies. The Dycks left home 15 minutes earlier than normal, as Karen noted she can’t leave her home street of Heartstone Drive onto Pandora or Bournais if a train is going by.
"It makes it a little more difficult," she said. "Everything has to be done sooner."
Dyck said her son will be walking for the foreseeable future, though, but she’s concerned about the city’s response to the increase in traffic. Though raised crosswalks were installed on Bournais in front of the school, she observed the additions are not making a difference in drivers’ speeds.
"The cars aren’t even slowing down," she said. "It’s supposed to be 30 (km/h). That wasn’t 30," she added, pointing to a car crossing the bump.
Another local parent, also named Karen, who didn’t want her last name used, lives on Dzyndra Crescent near the school. She would drive, dropping off her daughter on the way to work, but said she will be opting to walk until the crossing reopens. She was also concerned about the bumps, and suggested other options.
"If you go 60 km/h, you won’t even feel them," she said. "Why don’t they put in a pedestrian-controlled light?
"How about ‘local traffic only’ during this time (school time)? But it’s hard to enforce that."