Thursday, June 11th, 2009
By Janie Southard
Considering how to bridge the gap
St. Marys school board to fund study on how to get pedestrians to new school
  ST. MARYS - The question is: How to get kids across the four-lane after the new school is built. Yes, the buses will travel via the existing overpass; but what about daily travel before and after school when transportation is not available.
Board of education members approved contracting with Poggemeyer Design Group to study pedestrian and bike travel in the city area with emphasis on impact of the new 6-12 school location north of U.S. 33. Cost of the study is $3,750.
The study will evaluate particularly the crossing of the four-lane via a possible foot bridge east of state Route 66 as well as look at the practicality of using other freeway crossings both east and west of the school location.
In mid-May, Mayor Greg Freewalt, who was in the audience at Wednesday night's board meeting, had informed school Business Manager Kurt Kuffner that the city "is not going to plan, secure a funding source, construct, own or maintain a pedestrian bridge across U.S. 33 to the new school site."
But in Kuffner's report to the board Wednesday, he said the city would construct a sidewalk from McKinley Road to the south point of the bridge over U.S. 33.
Board members Rees McKee and Eric Langsdon both speculated that the city might "step up" if the pedestrian bridgewalk becomes a reality.
"I think we would work in concert ... even in partnership," McKee said.
Langsdon said he believes there will be no problem with the city as far as maintenance of the bridge.
"The city is just not willing to fund (the project)," he said. None of the city officials in the audience (Freewalt, Tom Hitchcock or Kraig Noble) made comment.
Following the meeting, McKee emphasized so far this is just a study.
"If the district has to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars in this, we simply cannot do it. We can't deplete our coffers on one project," he said.  
Community member Bud Fitzgerald addressed the board on his support of the bridge idea.
"We'll have at least 1000 kids crossing the highway to go to school every day, three of those are my grandchildren. What happens when the kids stay after or go early to school for sports, academics, etc. How will they get there?" he asked.
Superintendent Mary Riepenhoff said students' families will be polled on how they plan to get their kids to school (for extracurricular activities).
At least two community members, both active attendees at board meetings, are rankled with the new language in the agenda's public participation section.
The new wording: The board will not hear personal opinions about school personnel nor against any person connected with the school system. Other means are provided for board consideration and disposition of legitimate complaints involving individuals.
Board President Ralph Wiley informed the audience that this wording is and has been a part of board policy. "It is nothing new," he said.
Community member Bob Valentine addressed once more the incident following the Pay It Forward day that allegedly involved a district staff member calling a student a name for not participating in the day's events.
Valentine said there is no reference in the staff member's personnel file to the incident or any discipline meted out. Valentine requested and received copies of the personnel file through the Ohio Public Records Act.
Following the meeting, Riepenhoff told the newspaper that Valentine had requested "anything to do with discipline" in the files of five administrators/teachers. "After checking with our attorney, I supplied Mr. Valentine with the information he requested. We did not withhold anything that he was legally entitled to. We do not have to write up a written description of every incident we deal with, but that does not mean we have not dealt with it.
There is a certain amount of trust involved. When there are problems we are addressing them," she continued. "You may not know what the consequences are, whether they are verbal or whatever; but you may trust we have taken action if necessary and then moved on."
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