Shutting it Down

City approves partial closure of Third Street North for school district
By: 
Mikaela Koski
Thursday, September 6, 2018

One segment of the Columbus Elementary School expansion project was given the green light Tuesday night as the Columbus City Council unanimously voted to vacate a portion of Third Street North.

Thirty-five citizens were present at the public hearing for the road vacation, including parents, teachers, school administrators, school board members, and Columbus residents. Over a dozen voiced their opinions, overwhelmingly in support of vacating the street (11 proponents, 1 opponent).

The safety of students was at the forefront of the proponents’ comments. Several parents and teachers described how, despite the best efforts of parents and teachers to teach kids how to cross the street at the crosswalks, small children will dart out in the middle of streets after toys or to get to loved ones on the other side of the street quickly.

As a former elementary school teacher, Kay Faust said that “by closing that street, it makes us feel better with our responsibility to the parents” to keep their kids safe.

Traffic flow around the elementary school during drop-off and pick-up times was also a prominent topic. Parent-teacher association (PTA) President Tosha Vavak noted how the PTA has looked into different ways to fix the traffic flow around the elementary school by going to conventions and asking other school districts, and the administration’s current plan is the best solution that has come to light.

A number of proponents also said that closing a portion of the street will not make an insurmountable impact on the community because many people avoid Third Street North because, although it is a street that reaches from the north end of Columbus to the south end, there are multiple 4-way stops, particularly around the elementary school.

Merridy Gauthier, a lifelong Columbus resident and 22-year school employee, noted how, when the street was closed by the IGA, she was annoyed by the inconvenience the first couple times she tried to use the street. Since then, she has gotten used to the street and the closure has not bothered her at all.

Gauthier feels the vacation of Third Street North will be the same way for community members.

The sole opponent, Forrest Mandeville, said that while he understands why people feel strongly about the safety of school children, vacating the street would impact the city forever because “we will never get Third Street back.”

It is one of the last streets that connects the north end of town by Granite Peak Park all the way across the railroad tracks to the southern end of the city, and Mandeville said vacating the street would negatively impact traffic flow. He mentioned bump curbs and cobblestoned crosswalks as potential alternative options to slow traffic.

Webb Mandeville, a former mayor of Columbus, mentioned how it can be difficult to re-open streets once they have been closed, and urged caution from the council when making the decision.

Police Chief Jacob Ward noted that while he personally felt the school’s expansion plan was a good one, the entire community will have to make efforts to ensure that the new drop-off zone that will be located on the north side of the elementary property will run smoothly and not encounter the same congestion problems as the current drop-off zone.

“This is a start, but we all have to be on board for the whole thing (to be successful),” Ward said.

THE DETAILS

Following the public hearing, the aldermen considered the resolution to vacate the street at the regular meeting.

City Attorney Doug Howard explained that the resolution would “vacate” that portion of the street, meaning the title would no longer belong to the city, but to the property owners on each side of the road. In this case, the school owns all of the property on either side of the street where it is being vacated.

The resolution also details that if the property were to be used for any purposes other than school-related purposes, the ownership of the street would revert back to the city.

The city has some utility lines under that portion of the street, and Howard said the city does have a right to access them for necessary maintenance. Columbus Superintendent Jeff Bermes explained that the school will not build any permanent buildings over the current location of the street – it will be a grassy playground area.

Alderman Patty Sundberg noted that the council, in conversations with the school, encouraged a resolution such as the one drafted by Howard, and she felt it covers the city and the school on all grounds. She moved to adopt the resolution as written, and the remaining five aldermen unanimously voted for the motion.

The street vacation is set to go into effect April 1, 2019.

City Attorney Doug Howard explained that the resolution would “vacate” that portion of the street, meaning the title would no longer belong to the city, but to the property owners on each side of the road. In this case, the school owns all of the property on either side of the street where it is being vacated.

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