"Crossing guard wanted, againParents are frustrated, as no one wants the job."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:21 PM
"The hours are short, and the pay beats minimum wage by a couple of bucks an hour. It even comes with a free flag.But takers are few - zero, actually - for the job of afternoon school-crossing guard at the High School Road/ Madison Avenue intersection, leaving parents concerned once again for the safety of young students after school.We've been frustrated by that, said Ordway Elementary School Principal Bruce Colley, of the paucity of interest in the job. We haven't given up hope, by the way, he added. Anyone who wants to pick up roughly a half-hour's employment...Come on down!The school district agreed to fund the crossing-guard position in early 1999, after protests by a group of parents and an independent study of traffic conditions and liability issues at the intersection.Since then, the job - which involves halting cars to safely shepherd youths through eight lanes of sometimes busy traffic - has been held variously by a college student and school employees. A district employee now works the morning shift, but repeated postings have failed to generate more interest or anyone with a compatible schedule.As with other school crossing zones, safety at the intersection is largely a 20-minutes-at-a-time problem. Each weekday at 2:20 p.m., throngs of children are turned loose from Ordway, many marching up Madison on their way home, to the Bainbridge Library or into downtown. At the same time, lengthy vehicle queues often back up at the four-way stop, which also includes four turn lanes. Two years ago, Joanna McAtee and other parents carried picket signs in the intersection, to call attention to what most agreed was a dangerous commingling of cars and kids. With Ordway, the high school and the Commodore Center all within spitting distance, the school district eventually agreed to fund a crossing guard.But in its second year, the program hasn't generated any takers for the afternoon shift. McAtee met last week with Colley and Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper to weigh options. A network of volunteer parents probably wouldn't work, McAtee said, because of scheduling problems and other issues. And she's out of commission herself.I'm five months pregnant, McAtee said. I don't want to be out there in the intersection with a big stop sign and a big belly.Signal or roundabout?The High School/Madison intersection has been the subject of discussion and debate among city officials and various constituencies for several years. In fact, a major reconstruction project - including utility work, bike lanes and sidewalks - is slated for High School Road next year, from Madison west to Sportsman Club Road.But one question that's never been resolved is whether the intersection will see a signal or a roundabout traffic circle. Randy Witt, public works director for the city, said this week that he hopes to bring the question before the city council in January - to be settled once and for all - as the project goes out to bid next spring.In the meantime, what?Bainbridge Police will assign an officer to the area several afternoons each week, Cooper said, as staffing permits. That plan got off to an uncertain start; an officer in an unmarked car was on the scene for five minutes several days ago, then was pulled away by an emergency call elsewhere on the island.Cooper urged motorists to use caution whenever kids are in the area.The speeds some of these people are going through there is a recipe for disaster, Cooper said.We don't want to be dealing with a very sad driver who hits a kid, he said, admonishing drivers to take a few extra minutes and slow down.An electronic speed display - ordered by police in August, to help deal with ongoing complaints of speeders around the island - finally arrived in the post Tuesday afternoon. An officer was immediately put to the task of assembling the device, with hopes of having it in the field within a week. Once it's ready to go, volunteers will be asked to man the display, which will show the speed of passing vehicles and record other traffic data. It's expected to get an immediate run at the High School/Madison intersection.Cooper suggested that school traffic problems are exacerbated by the number of parents who pick up their children after classes each day - a complaint that echoes a longstanding gripe of some school officials. Even McAtee conceded that she picks up her son, an Ordway second grader, several times a week. Colley, though, said the number of parents picking up kids has declined, ever since new school hours went into effect. Whereas Ordway students used to be freed at 3:40 p.m. each day, that's been bumped up to 2:20 p.m., making it easier to get to sports practices or music lessons.They can get home on the bus, and still get to wherever they're going next, Colley said.One idea that's been thrown around informally is making the Ordway parking-lot exit a left-turn only after school - steering parents and other school traffic north toward the fire hall, instead of back into the morass of the intersection. Colley said the idea was news to him, and that he assumed the city would have to be consulted for any traffic revision.Meanwhile, there's still the need for a crossing guard, which pays about $8 per hour; the district office can be reached at 842-4716.I told the chief, I still have my signs in the basement, if I have to go out there and protest again, McAtee said. "