BARRE — Recently installed granite bollards imported from China have been removed, their promised Barre Gray replacements haven’t yet arrived, and a committee concerned about the safety of students who routinely walk along the designated exit to Spaulding High School are keenly aware that winter is coming.
Members of the school district’s facilities committee agreed during a Monday meeting that a makeshift barrier comprising traffic cones, wooden posts and crime scene tape doesn’t offer the kind of protection that will be warranted when the weather worsens.
Although the imported bollards provoked predictable blow-back from those in the local granite industry, some committee members wondered whether their abrupt removal could have waited until a safe substitute was actually in hand.
Facilities Director Jamie Evans said area granite manufacturers have generously offered to donate locally produced bollards that could be installed in place of the ones they complained were manufactured overseas out of a substandard granite quarried in China. However, concern that work won’t be finished before snow flies coupled with fresh questions about whether bollards are the best way to go had the committee considering a concrete solution.
Described as a stop-gap measure, committee members agreed installing Jersey barriers in place of the recently removed bollards would create a safe path for students who walk along the slope of what is otherwise a two-lane exit.
Spaulding Assistant Principal Luke Aither said school administrators viewed that as a high priority that could not be deferred.
“Within the next month, we’re going to have snow and ice and kids walking up that hill,” he said, acknowledging that has happened for decades without incident, but accidents happen.
“Our position is to make sure kids and traffic are not near each other,” he said.
That was the thinking behind the grant-funded installation of granite bollards that were almost immediately removed due to complaints about their origin. Materials aside, it cost more than $5,000 to install the bollards last month and more than $1,000 to remove them days later amid backlash from local granite manufacturers.
In the self-proclaimed “Granite Center of the World,” the symbolism of ripping out foreign granite was easy for committee members to understand, though some struggled with the timing.
“Why didn’t we wait until we had something to replace them?” Andrew McMichael asked.
Committee members didn’t dwell on the answer to that question and instead discussed alternatives to installing granite bollards — made in Barre or otherwise — down the middle of the school’s exit.
School Board Chairman Paul Malone said he wasn’t so sure.
Malone told committee members his preference would be to carve out a portion of a grassy knoll and install a sidewalk that runs up the hill for use by students heading to and from Ayers Street on foot. The sidewalk, he said, could feature a locally produced granite curb.
Evans questioned whether the sidewalk would be as safe, and Aither wondered whether changing plans would cost the district the $10,000 grant that helped finance the safety-related project in the first place.
The more pressing consideration from the committee’s perspective is that executing the project proposed by Malone or an alternative suggested by School Director Giuliano Cecchinelli could not be completed this year.
Cecchinelli, who serves as chairman of the committee, suggested constructing a stairway connecting with an existing walkway on the knoll, creating a way for students to stay out of the road.
Malone said he could support that idea, while Evans said it would pose maintenance issues in the winter, and some wondered whether students would ignore it in favor of walking in the road.
Regardless, members agreed there isn’t time to construct a sidewalk or a stairway before winter and cost is a consideration. Unless the new granite bollards arrive soon, they said placing Jersey barriers down the middle of the exit road would be a suitable solution for the winter. Other plans, possibly installing a sidewalk with granite bollards, could be considered as a project that could be completed next year.
Aither said he could support that concept, noting school officials are concerned about students distracted by cell phones walking next to traffic. He said that was true on the exit road, as well as on nearby Ayers Street where city officials are exploring installing a railing along the curb to prevent students from inadvertently stepping into the street.
Aither said he would check on the grant and Cecchinelli said he would reach out to manufacturers to determine whether there is any chance new bollards could be delivered in time to be installed before winter.