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Crossing Maine Street gives some Brunswick parents reason to worry

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Crossing Maine Street gives some Brunswick parents reason to worry

BRUNSWICK — A shortage of school crossing guards on Maine Street has some parents, including two School Board members, concerned about their children's safety.

School Board member Michele Joyce informed Town Manager Gary Brown last week about a close-call involving Joyce, her two children and a minivan at a crossing near Warmings Market. According to Joyce, who was in the crosswalk with her 3- and 7-year-old children, the driver stopped only after Joyce screamed.

"This has become a too familiar part of the process of getting to and from school," Joyce told Brown in an e-mail.

The incident prompted a flurry of messages between town staff and the Police Department, which has since assigned patrol officers at several crosswalks.

The town is responsible for hiring crossing guards. But six weeks into the school year, Brown said, attempts to recruit guards had been unsuccessful. He said the town is still advertising the positions, which pay $9.50 per hour.

Meanwhile, the Public Works Department has assured Joyce and others that it will soon install flashing pedestrian crossing signs at three different places on Maine Street. The signs will replace the in-pavement lighted crosswalks that the town installed in 2005. The town paid $45,000 for the crosswalk lighting, while Bowdoin College contributed $32,000.

Public Works Director John Foster said the town decided to remove some of the lighted crosswalks during storm drain work over the summer because they were ineffective.

Foster said this week that he hoped to have the new signs in place and operational by next week. 

Foster said he also plans to paint a traffic-stopping stripe at the intersection of Columbia Avenue and Maine Street so that pedestrians can cross without walking in front of vehicles edging their way onto Maine Street. In her initial e-mail to Brown, Joyce said she had stopped using the crossing near Columbia because it had become too dangerous in the absence of crossing guards.

The town's recent assignment of patrol officers at the Columbia-Maine intersection, and others, has drawn criticism from at least one other parent, School Board member Michelle Small.

In an Oct. 9 message to Brown, Small claimed that an officer assigned to the crossing at Maine Street and Longfellow Avenue left the post at 3:35 p.m., despite the presence of at least one parent and a student waiting to cross. Longfellow School releases at 3:10. 

Small said Officer Paul Hansen left because his shift was over and because he'd been instructed by Police Chief Richard Rizzo to end the guard duty by 3:30 p.m.

"As the Town Manager, you have a moral obligation to provide children with safe school crossings," Small wrote. "In addition, you are probably exposing the Town to enormous liability by leaving identified crossings unguarded."

Rizzo took responsibility for Hansen's departure. He said the officer had been instructed to stay at the post until 3:30 p.m. because school released at 3:10 and that 20 minutes seemed like "enough time" for students to cross. In addition, Rizzo said, the child was accompanied by a parent.

"(Hansen) felt that the parent seemed responsible enough to cross the street without his assistance," Rizzo wrote. "I would have to agree. People cross Maine, and other streets, every day without a crossing guard's or police officer's help."

Brown this week said that the Police Department had also checked with the schools to determine how long officers should be stationed at the crossings. 

"We're not going to be there just for the sake of being there," Brown said. "These are patrol officers and they do have other duties."

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net