A concerned parent and resident of North Grenville made a presentation to council on Tuesday, July 2, to alert them of the need for crossing guards in the community. Cynthia Davidson has been very vocal about the need for crossing guards in Kemptville. Since March, she has been doing research and sending emails to local schools and the municipality trying to gain traction for her effort. She finally decided to take her message to council in the hopes that something can be put into place for the next school year. “I came as a concerned parent,” Cynthia said at the meeting. “I didn’t expect to come to council. I thought I would send an email and it would be done.”
Cynthia understands that the municipality has been in the process of improving the infrastructure for pedestrian safety in North Grenville, but she doesn’t feel like it is enough. Her proposal is to have a crossing guard operating at least three locations in Kemptville: one at Prescott Street and Concession Road, at the crossing near St. Michael Catholic High School on County Road 43, and on County Road 44 to service kids at the new Kemptville Public School. “All the municipalities around North Grenville have crossing guards; Prescott, Smiths Falls, Brockville,” she says. “Why doesn’t Kemptville? Because I know we care about our kids too, right?”
The chair of the Parent Council at South Branch Elementary School, Sami Kutowy, was part of the delegation and furthered Cynthia’s point, stating that the safety of kids walking to school is something she hears about all the time from parents. “I get a lot of comments from parents about school related issues, and this is one that comes up,” she said. Sami’s family lives a walkable distance from the school; however, she does not feel comfortable letting her children cross the busy streets.
The School Health Coordinator of the Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit, Tawyna Boileau, was also part of the delegation, and she told council about the Health Unit’s efforts to promote active transportation to and from school. She says the Health Unit recently received a $60,000 grant from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund to implement a school travel project for North Grenville. As part of the project, the Health Unit will be hiring an engineering firm to conduct a walking hazard assessment, in partnership with the Municipality and the Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO), that should identify the needs of North Grenville from a pedestrian safety standpoint. The Health Unit will also be spearheading an Active School Travel Charter for the municipality and promoting awareness around active school travel to “make it part of the norm and culture,” Tawnya says.
Another initiative that the Health Unit has undertaken in other municipalities is the walking school bus. The pilot projects in Smiths Falls, Brockville and Almonte provide an escorted walk to elementary school children living within about a kilometre of schools in the various municipalities. “The project does have another year, with the potential to add another community,” Tawnya told council, adding that they could potentially include North Grenville. “I am going to bring that to our Active School Travel Committee in July.”
One suggestion made by the delegation was to have high school students volunteer as crossing guards, as Cynthia said they did when her father went to school in Kemptville in the 1950s. Unfortunately, North Grenville Fire Chief, John Okum, says that, according to the Highway Traffic Act, crossing guards are required to be employees of the municipality and be at least 16 old. “They would have to be an employee and go through training and HR policies of the municipality,” he says.
All members of council seemed very appreciative of the presentation and agreed that it is an important issue to address in the municipality. Deputy Mayor Jim McManaman was surprised that they weren’t hearing from the schools and school boards about this issue, instead of individual citizens. While schools do have to do their due diligence in making sure students get to and from school safely, the financial responsibility for hiring crossing guards falls to the municipality, as they would serve students from all school boards in the area.
Council has directed staff to prepare a report on the cost of hiring crossing guards, the possible walking school bus program, and any other pilot projects that may support students using active transportation to get to school. CAO Brian Carre said the walking hazard assessment study will be integral in helping determine the number and location of crossing guards needed in the municipality. “If we have that information prior to September, we would be able to provide that information to council to make that decision as requested,” he told council. “We will rely on that information to be able to provide you with a clearer picture of what bringing those services to the community would entail.”