Nearly everyone seems to agree that Silver Hills Elementary School has a problem. What will be done about the problem is not yet certain.
For motorists driving along 56th West near Silver Hills at 51st South, something appears to be out of the ordinary. On the east side of the highway is a large residential area, crowded with middle-class homes. On the west side of the highway lies a vast meadow with an elementary school sitting in the middle.Residents are concerned about the safety of children who must cross the busy highway to school each day. Most feel that the only solution to the problem is to build an overpass across 56th West.
"I have had worries about the safety of every one of these children who cross this busy street since the first day the school opened," said William B. Mansell, Silver Hills principal. "The safety of the children shouldn't have to be a principal's No. 1 priority, as it is mine."
Area residents organized a meeting Wednesday at Silver Hills and invited state, school district, city and county officials to attend. Residents hoped to convince the officials that an overpass is the only solution to the safety problem.
"It's not a matter of what we're going to do. We want to know how we can do it (ave the overpass constructed)," said Chris Harrison, an area resident. "We'll increase our taxes a little bit if it means the safety of our children."
Mansell said Silver Hills is unique because all 650 of his students must cross the highway to get to school and return home. When the school district planned to build the school, officials believed the land surrounding the school would be developed and houses built. However, Hercules later persuaded the county to impose a moratorium on any construction in the area because it lies within the company's buffer zone.
State Rep. Arlo James, D-Salt Lake, said elementary school-age children are not always capable of knowing when and how to cross the street safely. "There's no hope for that child unless you totally get him out of the traffic," he said.
The controversy surrounding the safety issues intensified after an incident two weeks ago when a 12-year-old student was hit in front of the school on her way home from an afternoon activity, said Michele Visarraga, who has three children who attend the school. The fifth-grader suffered a broken hip and leg injuries.
"Our feelings are running very high right now," Visarraga said. "It's a chronic problem that's not going away. It's only going to get worse."
Sheldon McConkie, Utah Department of Transportation, said UDOT is willing to help solve the problem, but it must be a joint effort with the community. UDOT policy says the department can only construct pedestrian overpasses when half of the funds for the project are donated by the community, the school board or other organizations.
"If that is the consensus and the funds can be matched, I would be willing to be an advocate for you," he told residents at the meeting.
Carl Christiansen, safety and energy director of the Granite School District, warned that the overpass may not solve all of the parents' problems. Students at schools that have overpasses often run across the street and climb the fences instead of walking the extra distance on an overpass, he said. He also expressed concern about property that may have to be purchased to build the overpass entry. "A home may even have to be removed for a landing spot," he said.
A crossing guard helps the students cross the street during school hours, but parents expressed concern about children who may arrive early or stay after school hours to play on the playground or participate in extracurricular activities.
"We do not want to stop the after-school activities," said Colleen Larsen, a teacher at Silver Hills. "Children need that to enhance their lives. The community should not be deprived of this school that they helped create because there is no safe way to cross the street."
Community members at the meeting seemed convinced that their best alternative is to raise half of the cost of the project and hope UDOT will match the funds.
"Since Hercules helped create the problem, I think they should be approached to help," said one resident to a roar of applause. "The mother who created this complex should take the responsibility here," said another resident about the Granite School District.
Riley O'Neil, deputy superintendent of the Granite School District, said he would put a proposal to help fund an overpass on Tuesday's school board agenda if residents would make a presentation. Plans were also made to talk to Hercules and city officials.