Jerusalem Municipality building bus parking lot next to kindergartens

Parents say mayor rushing construction for political gain.

Bus parking lot being built next to a Jerusalem kindergarden
The Jerusalem Municipality is building a parking lot for buses located adjacent to two kindergarten compounds in the Mishkenot Ha’uma neighborhood, despite prior decisions by municipal committees and government ministries’ recommendations to halt the work.
The construction is part of the massive “Entrance to the City Project,” and is carried out by the municipality’s Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation.
The parking lot is located at Ha’aluf David Shaltiel Street, in a place that used to be called the “Beit Hachayal [Soldier’s House] parking lot,” and used to serve private cars.
The Jerusalem Post obtained two letters sent by the Health Ministry earlier this month, in which the ministry asked the municipality to halt constructions until a conclusive air pollution analysis is conducted, and the repercussions of building a parking lot next to kindergartens will be reexamined.
The municipality responded to the first letter and said it is currently conducting comprehensive research on the effects of such a parking lot in the surroundings, and that it won’t be operational until it is certain that no child will be endangered.
However, construction never stopped. The Post saw heavy machinery working at the site on Thursday.
According to the original plan, the parking lot was supposed to space for 59 buses – 17 at street level, and 42 underground. The Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee approved the plan last August – but without the overground parking lot.
In a Municipal Finance Committee meeting in January, it was said that the budgeting to project would be allocated only if it would be according to the previous committee decision – meaning without the underground parking lot.
City Councilman Meir Turgeman, the head of the local Planning and Construction Committee, ordered Moriah to halt the construction in February. The company, however, continued to build, saying the plan was changed and that it was working on a temporary parking lot that does not require the approval of the committee.
The move caused an outcry from parents of children who attend an adjacent kindergarten, and are worried about the effect of poisonous fumes on their offspring.
In a meeting with Turgeman and a representative of Moriah, they learned that the temporary parking lot will have space for 29 buses at street level, and not 17, with no underground parking lot at all.
In a conversation with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, the parents were told that “temporary” means three years, Jonathan Blum, a parent of a child attending the adjacent kindergarten, told the Post on Thursday.
“Another one of my kids will start going to this kindergarten next year. He will attend it for three years, so what’s temporary about it for him? His entire time going to kindergarten will be with buses around him,” Blum said.
In meeting with residents later in February, Turgeman said it was Barkat’s decision to continue with the construction.
Some of the parents maintain that Barkat is pushing forward the project as quickly as possible – and building a temporary lot in order to bypass the requirement for approval by municipal committees – to show results on the ground before he joins national politics, at the expense of the health of their children.
“There are clear motives to this move,” Neta Goldshmidt-Zemach, who has a child in one of the kindergartens, told the Post on Thursday.
“Barkat is now running off to national politics and he wants to cut the red ribbon – and he wants to do it fast. He did not manage to complete his flagship project of the entrance to the city, so he is doing it at the expense of the residents and the children,” she said.
Goldshmidt-Zemach stressed that she by no means opposes the development of the city, but said that this move was conducted without taking into consideration the suffering that the children and parents are going through.
“If such smart people [who planned the project] are thinking of every little detail of developing Jerusalem, couldn’t they think about our children’s kindergartens? The effect on their health? We are talking here about horrible diseases... This decision will send my kid to the oncology ward,” she said.
The Jerusalem Municipality declined to respond to the Post’s questions and said the entire project is managed by Moriah, and it should be asked to comment.
Moriah told the Post: “The construction being carried at present entails paving an asphalt surface and leveling [the parking lot], and these are minor and quick undertakings.
“Regarding the buses’ activities – no bus will enter the Beit Hachayal parking lot without receiving all the necessary approvals and meeting the required strict environmental standards.
“The Jerusalem Municipality is in constant connection with the Health Ministry, and Mayor Nir Barkat met with the parents and promised them that the municipality will not endanger any child.
“Because of the advancement of the Entrance to the City Project, which will also include an advanced and green transportation center, there are many changes in the area. However, throughout the entire process, the municipality is doing all it can to maintain the normal day-to-day lives of the citizens and to protect their health,” Moriah said.