Study eyes RCS student safety

One of the recommendations of a Regional Planning Commission study of roads and sidewalks for transportation of students to local schools is to add a crossing guard at the intersection of Perimeter Road and Fairway Drive. The intersection is located south of Pleasant Acres Elementary.

RANTOUL — Getting to and from school is not always easy/safe for some students in Rantoul public schools. Recommendations from a Regional Planning Commission study would seek to rectify some of those issues.

Among the safety problems, according to transportation planner Gabe Lewis, are aggressive drivers; students’ bikes being stolen from home, neighborhood or school; heavy traffic on tracts such as U.S. 136, Maplewood Drive and U.S. 45; and long walks to school for some students.

“Others have personal safety concerns or sibling or family influences,” Lewis told the Rantoul City Schools board. “Others find the sidewalks or roads in bad condition. Some want street lights for overcast or dark winter days.”

The study’s findings included five high-priority engineering recommendations that included installing sidewalks or improving the condition of existing ones, installing pedestrian countdown signals at intersections, installing permanent vehicular speed signs and upgrading curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

Other recommendations include installing more bike lanes, improving signage for pedestrians, installing pedestrian refuge islands on four-lane roads, adding lights for pedestrian crossing of high-traffic areas,  continue building trails in town, and installing covered bike parking at schools so bicycles are not exposed to the elements.

Lewis said many students travel to school by car. Walking came in second at Eastlawn, Northview and Pleasant Acres schools. Broadmeadow Elementary is farther away from most student homes. Some came by bike and others by bus.

By school, the study made recommendations:

At Broadmeadow, most cars and buses enter Sunview Road. Cars go on the west side of the building and buses on the east side. Walkers and bikers use the sidewalk on the east side of Sunview. RPC recommended making Broadmeadow Road a one-way street westbound for the start and end of the school day. It also recommended installing a sidewalk beside the street.

“We have identified locations where, if parents don’t live near the school, parents can leave their kids ... and let them walk the rest of the way or walk with them so they get some exercise,” Lewis said. “We have looked at things like sidewalks, speed limits, crossing guard location, crosswalks and pedestrian signs.”

At Eastlawn Elementary, cars pick up and drop off students on the north side of the building, and buses do the same on the south side. Pedestrians and bicyclers have to cross Maplewood Drive, where a crossing guard is stationed, to reach the school. RPC recommended the village of Rantoul conduct a safety study on Maplewood.

At Northview Elementary, “cars can go almost anywhere,” Lewis said. “They can enter on the southwest side and leave on the northwest side, or the east side on Illinois Drive. Buses come in the southwest side and exit on the northwest side.”

Lewis said pedestrians and bicyclists have challenges reaching the school and need to be led by a teacher to the west to get across Sheldon Street. To the east, there is only a pedestrian lane and no sidewalk. The study recommended sidewalks on Illinois Drive.

“We know there’s a path being built on the east side of the property to get to the rail trail,” Lewis said. “We want to close the front driveway to cars so kids can walk or bike and exit the building safely. A bus can enter on the southwest side and cars on the northwest side.”

A “park-and-walk” site was proposed at the Nazarene Church, south of Northview. Students can use Sheldon Street, or a sidewalk could be built from the south part of the school property to the church parking lot.

At Pleasant Acres, all cars and buses enter the grounds from Short Street. Cars proceed to the north side of the building, and buses to the south. Walkers from the north use Harper Drive, where there is a pedestrian lane. A cut-through sidewalk is located between two houses to reach the school. From the south there is a sidewalk located along a farm field, which RPC recommended widening from 4 feet to 8 feet and extending it to Veterans Parkway. Lewis said there is a lack of sidewalks in the area. The study recommended adding a crossing guard at the Perimeter Road/Fairway Drive intersection.

Potential park and walk sites for Pleasant Acres are Cultivators Latino Center and New Light Baptist Church.

Other recommendations: distribute bike education pamphlets and a parent letter yearly concerning traffic safety rules; distribute safe-walking route maps and traffic circulation maps; establish a bike education curriculum and host a bike rodeo at the schools. Also, hold school walkathons and bike-to-school day in May and October and have a walk-to-school day. A medium-priority recommendation was to have a frequent-walker club that allows students to participate even if they don’t live close to school. A punch-card system or foot-token system could be used. The school could partner with local businesses, and prizes awarded to students who reach goals.

The study recommends early dismissal for walkers and bicyclists; encourages snow removal so pedestrians can more easily get to school. One idea to promote walking or biking to school is to have “walking school buses” or “bike trains.” The idea would be to develop a route with a number of students participating, led by an adult or a responsible high school student.

Lewis said the Illinois Department of Transportation is expected to take Safe Routes to School grant applications in the fall. RCS would stand a greater chance of grant approval if it has approved its Safe Routes to School plans by then.

In other business, Superintendent Michelle Ramage announced RCS had received a United Way grant of $140,000 over a two-year period for the Boys and Girls Club after-school program at Pleasant Acres. RCS had requested additional funding to also include the program at another school but was not awarded the money.

A $500 Champaign County Audubon Society grant was awarded to Rianne Delgadillo, behavioral manager at Broadmeadow, for a community garden.

A $4,000 Fuel Up to Play 60 grant was awarded to Pleasant Acres for physical education activities, including an iMove Club at recess, Farm to Table activities, promotion of healthy activities and money for incentives and events.

The board also heard a presentation by J.W. Eater Principal Dr. Scott Woods and teacher Carissa Culbertson on the 2020-21 professional evaluation plan.

The board approved increasing the pay of the behavioral coach by 60 cents an hour so the pay level takes into account a master’s degree.

The board approved a memorandum of understanding on how stipends are paid for extracurricular sports and clubs in the event they can’t be held for such things as a pandemic. Pay will be pro-rated.

The board added the position of technology support technician. The salary for the first year will be paid from a CARES grant.

Ramage reminded the board a Carle RV mobile and eight-exam room unit will be available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 31 at J.W. Eater.