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Traffic trouble for St. Michaels Junior school

Neighbours expressed concerns about the proposed new building for SMUS Junior school which needs variance approval to extend it into the side yards. (Inset) Shaded areas on a sketch show where variances are needed. - Merrick Architecture images
Neighbours expressed concerns about the proposed new building for SMUS Junior school which needs variance approval to extend it into the side yards. (Inset) Shaded areas on a sketch show where variances are needed.
— image credit: Merrick Architecture images

The proposed rebuild for St. Michaels Junior school will have to wait a while longer.

At a council meeting held July 14, council and the public alike expressed support for the new school building, and for the open, ground level and green space-heavy design, but all said that there are further concerns that need to be addressed before construction can begin.

Paul Merrick of Merrick Architecture presented plans with a variance that was reduced from a previous plan presented to council, and Nadine King of Boulevard Transportation Group discussed a parking and traffic study that was conducted on the school and roads surrounding it.

More than a dozen members of the public spoke, with a wide variety of concerns. In addition to adjacent neighbours’ misgivings about the school obstructing their views, those who had been able to view the plans for the underground parking lot questioned its practicality.

“I know the hurry that parents are in most of the time, and I don’t think they’re going to use it,” said Coun. Michelle Kirby. Parents are more likely to continue using a quick drop-off zone rather than parking, she said. Additionally, the plan presented had children getting off the school bus and having to cross two lanes of parent drop-off traffic to get to the school.

Douglas Scott, a resident of Beaverbrooke Street, spoke on behalf of several households in his neighbourhood.

“There’s no one amongst us that doesn’t support St. Michaels,” he said, “but we need to take more time to get there thoughtfully.”

Scott listed congested traffic and parking as the foremost issues with the project.

Ron Carter of Falkland Road echoed the car concerns, and added he is worried about whether the Garry oaks could actually be retained through construction.

Other points raised included worries about the water table. One resident described an underwater creek in the area that already overflows in heavy rainfall, and another said she “guaranteed” that if the project goes ahead, there would be a water problem.

Dave Marshall, director of engineering for Oak Bay, said that the water table varies throughout the entire municipality, but that he is not aware of any possible problems at the future building site. “We don’t have any records of a water table elevation at this point,” he said. “It’s not something that’s been brought to our attention here in the engineering department.”

Some residents were angered by the short notice they said they were given for the meeting, and several made comments that a number of neighbours were out of town and could not speak to the issue.

Council had a number of questions for the architect and transportation group about whether above ground, safe and covered bicycle parking will be available to children; why there is only one point of access to the school for pedestrians and cyclists and whether blasting would be necessary to build the underground parking garage.

“The discussion tonight raises a lot of questions. I don’t think we’re at a point where we can move forward,” said Coun. Pam Copley. “There’s more time that’s needed.”

Acting mayor Cairine Green emphasized that a traffic safety study needs to be conducted, rather than just analyzing traffic patterns. She also noted that she only learned of the potential water issue from residents at the meeting, and agreed that much more research is needed before moving forward.

Council asked for more information on multiple access points, the bus drop off and adjacent loading zone for parents, the potential water issue, root zone management, covered bike parking on-site, possible shower facilities for teachers to encourage cycling, a tree retention plan, and the adjacent neighbours’ impact from the variance.

Council voted unanimously to defer the approval of the variance until more information can be gathered.

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