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Manteca needs to abandon Garfield section for MHS safety

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POSTED June 15, 2017 1:15 a.m.

The Manteca City Council has taken steps to improve the security of the Manteca Library.
Now they need to do the same for Manteca High.
The city needs to abandon the section of Garfield Avenue that slices through the Manteca High campus.
We need to make our schools as safe as reasonably possible. There is nothing reasonable in this day and age to allow a city street — that is superfluous for traffic movements — to serve as a potential dagger aimed at the safety of more than 1,700 students and staff.
In the wee hours of Tuesday morning while taking a circuitous route home from work, I drove down Garfield Avenue as I sometimes do to check on the Moffat Community Center following up on a promise I made to do so occasionally.
When I started pulling away from the mid-block stop sign, I noticed two figures heading east off the Garfield sidewalk toward the classroom portables. They were obviously homeless.
This is not the first time nor will it be the last time homeless will enter the Manteca High campus.
Homeless have been known to bed down in and around the football stadium in the proximity of portable classrooms.
Awakening homeless that opted to sleep in the coverage of campus shrubs have startled students walking to school.
During school hours when the school staff closes the street with gates as the city allowed them to do starting in 2009, it is not uncommon for people who are not students to walk down Garfield through the middle of the campus as the sidewalks are not closed.
The safety issues that drove the decision to put in the temporary closure policy by the city eight years ago are much different than what exists today although they are still pertinent.
They are some 20 classes on the east side of Garfield Avenue cutoff from the main campus along with areas utilized by physical education classes. Although non-school traffic down the section of Garfield Avenue that is in question has always been extremely light, there were more than a few close calls of students almost getting hit by vehicles.
In today’s world, the bigger safety issue is being able to control access to campuses. It was part of the driving concern behind voter approval of the $159 million Measure G school bond.
There is no overwhelming reason why this section of Garfield where it is flanked by the campus on both sides between Moffat Boulevard and Mikesell  Street still needs to be a public street. While the district is exploring the possibility of super sizing the Manteca High campus to address growth issues and may ask for complete control of that section of Garfield, that may not happen. And if that is the route the district take it could be years before there is forward movement.
The City Council needs to take the initiative given student safety concerns have been repeatedly raised in the past year or so especially with homeless whose ranks include the mentally ill, criminals, and drug abusers and point blank offer to abandon that section of Garfield.
In doing so, the district could take the remedial step of installing fencing with gates to block unwanted pedestrian and vehicle traffic from entering the campus. It would be a major improvement in campus security for minimum cost.
 When the issue was first floated over a year ago, police and fire raised initial concerns but after giving the situation a closer look dropped them. It’s no wonder given how both agencies know the dangers firsthand of not having a secure school campus plus having a public street that is essentially superfluous cut through an area heavily traveled by students even after school when the swing gates are opened.
Public Works’ concern was the existence of water and sewer trunk lines. That concern, though, was directed at potential long range plans of possibly reconfiguring the campus which could include placing some permanent structures partially into what is now Garfield. The answer to that is simple. No building would be allowed above the water and sewer lines as it would remain as an easement. And if for some reason down the road if placing a structure over where the lines are now was deemed the best use of space, it would be on the district’s dime to relocate the water and sewer lines.
Campus monitors stationed along Garfield do a Herculean job at addressing issues with the homeless and others. But there is more at stake here than problems or woes that homeless can bring.
There is a reason sadly why “defensible space” is now part of the lingo of those who oversee school facilities
At the next two-by-two meeting involving two representatives of the Manteca City Council and two from the Manteca Unified School District board, the council needs to take the initiative and make the offer to abandon the section of Garfield for improved school safety. Put the ball in the school district’s court.
Just like at the Manteca Library courtyard where the installment this week of wrought iron fencing and gates took away a hiding place where homeless could damage taxpayer property with impunity while doing drugs and creating a mess, abandoning Garfield would help alieve Manteca High of similar issues and make the campus a bit safer for 1,700 students and staff.




This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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