July 3, 2020

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Donated lights could prove costly, city officials warn

City staff concerned about potential cost of accepting school zone lights

Accepting a long-discussed donation of flashing school zone lights could actually cost the city money, a council committee heard Monday.

Since at least 2017, a local businessman has been willing to donate two solar-powered lights per school to the City of Winnipeg. Those eye-catching beacons are meant to better warn drivers of 30 kilometre-per-hour school zone speed limits.

Electrical Contractor Chuck Lewis with a light similar to what he's installed at some reduced speed school zones. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

Electrical Contractor Chuck Lewis with a light similar to what he's installed at some reduced speed school zones. (Phil Hossack / Free Press files)

Chuck Lewis, the general manager of Expert Electric, also promised to donate the installation and at least 10 years of maintenance for the lights, which he expects would improve safety by ensuring more drivers slow down.

But taking that gift could come with a price tag, since some schools could require more than two lights, according to the city’s transportation manager, David Patman.

"Does the city cover the cost of the additional units?" said Patman. "That’s a detail that’s holding us up."

He said the existing signposts in school zones were also not designed to hold the flashing lights, creating another potential cost to change them.

"We have to make modifications to the posts to mount these units on… to make sure (they don’t) fall down when there’s a wind storm or there’s snow falling," said Patman.

City staff did not provide an exact cost estimate related to the lights, while Lewis estimates his donation would be worth about $1.2 million. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

City staff did not provide an exact cost estimate related to the lights, while Lewis estimates his donation would be worth about $1.2 million. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The city also has yet to agree with its potential donor on the timeline to install the safety devices. Patman said the company wants to roll out the flashing lights to one school per month, while the city could handle its costs better on a slower timeline.

Patman said the details of an education program to accompany the change are also still being worked out.

City staff did not provide an exact cost estimate related to the lights, while Lewis estimates his donation would be worth about $1.2 million.

The businessman said he’s frustrated by multiple delays in the city’s approval process for the lights and hopes to see a resolution soon.

"By the time they’re done all these studies and reports, what’s it going to take? A kid to get hit, a kid to get hurt? And then they’ll say ‘We should have reacted?’" he said.

Last month, Lewis briefly installed the flashing lights without city permission at one local school. He said that one-day test proved extremely successful in slowing drivers down.

"As soon as you turned down the street, you could see it. No matter what the weather… you’re still going to see those lights," he said.

Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood), who has long lobbied for council to accept the gift, argued the city has dragged its feet for far too long.

"This resident is trying to do something that he thinks will give back to his community. Surely, we can help him," said Klein.

On Monday, council’s property and development committee voted to defer the proposal for another two months. At that point, a report is expected to detail a potential agreement and outline all possible city costs linked to the lights.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), who chairs the committee, said he hopes to settle the matter soon.

"We’ve got to get this resolved in one way or another. I’d like to see it in some of the schools in my ward. I think it would be helpful," said Mayes.

Joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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