Incident Serves as a Call for Solutions

By Cara Huberman

By now, everyone in town and around the state –due to coverage by Channel 7 who had a cameraman on the scene almost instantaneously – knows about the potentially serious situation that took place last Friday at the Gorman Fort Banks Elementary School.  A strong odor of gas permeated the building.  The school was temporarily evacuated, leaving students and teachers outside in the cold for awhile.

The Fire Department determined that the smell had been exhaust fumes of carbon monoxide belonging to an idling diesel truck that was making a delivery. By afternoon the smell had dissipated with the exception of a faint smell in one area of the school.  Many of the teachers kept a window open in their classrooms for the remainder of the day.  Some classes had fewer than half the students as they were dismissed by parents.  Other classes appeared to be unaffected.  That would appear to be the conclusion of the story with a great ending.

I was en-route to the school to escort a performer to the classrooms when I got a call from another parent telling me the school had been evacuated and could I locate her child as she didn’t want her child standing in the cold.  When I arrived AT the school, students had already returned to the classrooms but the scene was that of utter chaos.  Two ambulances and four fire trucks had taken over AND BLOCKED The horseshoe, where parents usually park to run in and get their children.  Many parents who had heard the news were trying to navigate and get close enough to the school with their vehicles to be able to park and get their children dismissed but were stuck in gridlock.  Police tried to direct traffic, but there was really nowhere to direct it to go and there is really no parking in the area, especially with the large snow banks lining the road.   By the time I got close enough to the school, I thought in my own mind “thank god this wasn’t a real disaster” as if it had been; the consequences might have been catastrophic.

IF the front portion of Kennedy drive was blocked off by vehicles, disaster such as a plane crash landing, etc.  there would be no way to get the more than  500 children and approximately 100 facility out and there would be no way to get rescue vehicles in regardless of the situation as there is only one way in and one way out.

This issue was hot topic at the PTO meeting that took place at the school on FEB. 9.  The focus was an access road, which has been talked about for years but has never come to fruition.

The DPW- which is across the street from the Gorman/Ft. Banks School – operates vehicles during drop off and pick up time, putting the lives of our children at risk.  Scott Kinsella, a parent, who spoke at the PTO meeting, suggested that the DPW keep trucks out of the area for 20 minutes in the am and pm at the heightened drop off/pick up times as these times remain constant every day with the exception of early release days.  He has drawn up a petition, which already has over 40 signatures.  He presented it as well as arguments during the Public Comment Period at the Town Council Meeting on Tuesday evening.  Kinsella’s partition states that there have been numerous attempts to work with the DPW regarding the request.  It also states that “Immediate action is essential to the protection and well being of our children.”  This HOT topic took up the first hour and 20 minutes of the meeting.  A the police chief said that they cannot dedicate 100% of their resources to the situation but if they can, which is the majority of the time, they have someone during the morning commute at the cross section of Revere Street and Kennedy Drive.  Meanwhile, there is no official crossing guard in front of the school.  John McDougall, the school’s custodian acts as the crossing guard for a half hour every morning.  After hearing arguments from members of the PTO, Dr. Lisi, The superintendent of schools, the police chief, and the DPW, Jeff Turko, council president, who is clearly an advocate for finding a solution to this situation, said “that as a safety issue came up at an open meeting, that something can be put in place immediately.”   It was agreed that DPW director, Dave Hickey enforce that DPW employees, starting Monday, FEB. 28-the day children return back from school vacation-from 7:45 to 8:15 am and from 1:30 to 2:15 pm DPW vehicles will be off of Kennedy Drive unless there is an emergency.  BUT even that would be a temporary Band-Aid.  Jeff Turco, who is the only town leader that anyone remembers as attending a PTO meeting – in recent years – to hear parents concerns, said at meeting on TUES. “That this is not going to solve the ultimate problem, the access road will solve the ultimate problem.”  I am relatively new to the school system, I have a five year old and am just starting, but I have heard discussion and concern over these issues repeatedly.  They have been mentioned at PTO meetings that these are potential life threatening issues and potential law suits that have been identified over and over.

It appears as if all of these risks have been exacerbated this year with the LARGE snow banks at the school, which the children are in some instances climbing over to get in and out of the cars.   These are small children preschool to second grade, approximately four to eight years old, who could easily fall, slide under a car and not be seen.  And that’s only half of the problem, the snow banks are so high that a child could easily dart out and not be seen as a car is coming around the corner.  You would think that being located within such a short proximity to the DPW yard – literally a few hundred feet from door to door- which houses the snow removal equipment, the last thing the school would have an issue with is snow removal, yet the snow banks deem drop off and pick up unsafe.  Mr. Hickey said “that Kennedy drive got more attention than any other street but, it doesn’t mean we are perfect,” referring to the snow removal efforts on Kennedy Drive.

Someone suggested that parent’s park up by the cemetery and walk their kids down in the morning.  There are only a couple of issues with that.  It’s not just in the morning, it is twice a day.  If the parent has more than one child, especially in inclement weather it is quite difficult to lug an additional child or children especially if they are infants or toddlers and need to be put in a stroller.  Pushing them up and down the hill twice a day is not something anyone would look forward to doing.  As Christine Bernstein, PTO mother, pointed out, if her child is sick and needs to be picked up from school, it would be impossible for her to carry her son, who weighs 50 to 60 pounds up the hill.  It would make more sense for town employees to park up there and free up parking spaces for parents as the majority of employees don’t leave until the end of the day.  Another suggestion, Mrs. Bernstein made was to reverse the locations of the school parking lot and the playground.

Immediate action needs to be a top priority.  Putting in an access road would elevate the congestion at the cross section of Revere Street and Kennedy Drive during the morning rush hour.  It will also result in a smooth, safe flow of traffic for the school and would be beneficial to the DPW and funerals that are held at the cemetery.  Most importantly it will provide another access point for the school in case of an emergency.  Hopefully, last Friday’s events will be –an immediate call to action.

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