Granite Board of Education members voted Tuesday night to close East Mill Creek Elementary School and send its children to Upland Terrace Elementary School this fall after hearing a traffic engineer warn that 33rd South poses an extreme hazard to schoolchildren.
"Any time you try to cross 33rd South you are jeopardizing the safety of the parents and the children," said Tosh Kano, Salt Lake County-flood control and highway division director.In a 3-2 vote, the board agreed with Kano's recommendation that 33rd South should be regarded as a physical barrier and that the elementary schoolchildren should not be required to cross it to go to school. A letter from the Utah Department of Transportation read to the board made a similar plea. The six-lane street is a state highway.
Actually, the board never intended that the 272 children from East Mill Creek Elementary School, 2965 E. 3435 South, would have to walk across the busy street. Under the two proposals considered by the board, they would have been bused to either Upland Terrace, 3700 S. 2860 East, or Canyon Rim Elementary, 3005 S. 27th East.
However, East Mill Creek parents heavily lobbied the board against the Canyon Rim proposal. They argued that their children would be tempted to cross the highway on foot to visit school friends or for after-school activities.
In sending the East Mill Creek children to Upland Terrace, it will displace 150 students who have been bused to that school from a westside neighborhood for 18 years. The board voted to send those students from their homes in the valley center of Fifth to Seventh West and 39th South to Canyon Rim.
Parents of the valley center students had opposed this switch. They contended that they were promised that busing to Upland Terrace would be permanent when their neighborhood school was closed 18 years ago.
None of the parents, however, spoke to the board. The board has had several hearings on the issue, but reserved Tuesday night's session for board discussion only. Several members said they received more phone calls or letters on these controversial proposals than any others during their service on the board.
The school district administration, which favored the action taken by the board, was forced to close an eastside school because three elementary schools did not have enough students to meet the state's 70 percent utilization requirement. Such schools stand to lose state financial support for utilities.
In his presentation to the board, Kano said 33rd South is every bit as dangerous as 56th West. Recently, the board agreed to help finance a pedestrian overpass on 56th West for students attending Silver Hills Elementary School, 5770 S. 51st South.
However, he reported, it would be impossible to build a walkway over 33rd South because of the large number of connector streets feeding into it. Additionally, the street has only intermittent sidewalk and children would be forced to walk into the traffic lane in some spots while trying to reach the pedestrian overpass.
He said 17,700 vehicles daily travel 33rd South between 27th and 30th East, compared to 12,700 on 56th West. The heavily commercial 33rd South had 101 accidents, including 13 auto-pedestrian accidents, in 1987 on that one-mile strip.
The traffic dangers are also increased because an I-215 ramp feeds onto 33rd and some cars exiting the freeway at 60 to 65 mph ignore the posted speed limit for some distance.
Board members Judy Larson and J. Dale Christensen, who voted against the Upland Terrace proposal, said it's the parents', not the school district's, responsibility to keep children safe after school and on trips to see their friends.
Board member Lynn Davidson, who voted with the majority, said he was particulary sensitive to the safety issue. "Having been the parent of a 6-year-old who was hit by a car in an auto-pedestrian accident, I can only agree with Mr. Kano," he said.
Board President Gary Swensen urged all parents to accept the decision for the sake of their children. "The bottom line of how your kids feel about going to school does not depend on the school board, but on what you say to them in the morning about going to school."