Testing the experiment

An 11th-hour strike was avoided in one Jerusalem school.

traffic jam 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
traffic jam 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
espite a 20-ton crane suspended over their school and enormous logistical problems in getting their children to and from the building, parents in Jerusalem's Experimental School have decided not to keep their children at home - at least for now. The Experimental School, located on Rehov Rabbi Akiva in the heart of downtown next to Independence Park, is a magnet school serving the greater Jerusalem area. It has over 900 students ranging from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. In June, as part of the construction of the multi-story, luxury apartment complex Jerusalem of Gold, a giant crane was set up on Rehov Rabbi Akiva, with its arm extending over the school's main entrance and parts of the schoolyard. Parents were appalled. Last year, a similar crane being used in a construction project in Tel Aviv collapsed, killing one person. "The crane poses an outrageous threat to children entering the school and playing in the yard," says Rosalie Ofer, a member of the Experimental School's Parents' Association. When it became apparent that it was not possible to have the crane moved, the Parents' Association demanded that authorities open a new entrance to the school, cordon off the area of the schoolyard under the crane, construct an acoustic wall to block the noise and install air conditioners since the noise and dust from construction would make opening the windows difficult. They also set as a pre-condition for sending the children back to school certification from a city engineer that the arrangements are safe. "But for these solutions to be effective, parents must be able to drop off and pick up their children, and for this we need adequate parking arrangements," says Dr. Gadi Prudovsky, chair of the Parents' Association. "Most of our children are dropped off and picked up by car. Moreover, due to construction in the downtown area, even children who live in the center of town cannot walk to school and need to be driven," explains Ofer. Parents used to drop off and pick up their children on Rehov Rabbi Akiva, but since the start of the Jerusalem of Gold construction project, this street is not really accessible. A sign on the street says no heavy trucks are allowed from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. in order for parents to be able to use this street, but the sign is almost always ignored by truckers. The opening of the new entrance on the southeastern side of the school by Independence Park created an urgent need for parking on Rehov Menashe Ben-Israel, the street that runs through the park between Rehov Agron and Rehov Hillel. The Parents' Association suggested the creation of some 20 parking spaces; the city arranged for nine on Menashe Ben-Israel, three on Hillel and three on Rehov Aviad near the Sheraton Park Plaza Hotel. On Thursday, August 31, Parents' Association representatives and municipal officials toured the school and the surrounding area in preparation for the opening of the school year. "We found the new entrance ready and the area of the schoolyard under the crane fenced off. But instead of an acoustic wall, there is a fence with tin plating on Rehov Rabbi Akiva," reports Prudovsky. "Also, the air conditioners have been purchased but have not been installed. We were promised they would be ready by the end of September... The situation with respect to the school and yard is not ideal, but it is okay. "However, we still did not have safety certification by an engineer and the parking was not arranged," he continues. "We complained to city officials during the tour that the sign limiting parking to the school's parents during morning drop off and afternoon pick up hours was confusing while the parking meters remain and the curbs are not painted red and white. The municipality assured us that the meters would be removed and the spots clearly marked for our parents." At the city council meeting on August 31, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski reiterated the municipality's promise to remove the parking meters from the designated spots on Menashe Ben-Israel by September 3, when school opened. But on September 3, "all hell broke loose," says Prudovsky. "The meters were still next to our spots on Menashe Ben-Israel. There were no red and white markings on the curbs. People either didn't notice the signs or didn't understand them and parked in our reserved spots. There was a giant traffic mess and no one could move." On Rehov Rabbi Akiva, parents found a policewoman who refused to let them stop and park, claiming that despite the sign, the street was only for use by heavy trucks. But worst of all, the school and its grounds had still not been certified safe by an engineer. So the Parents' Association threatened a strike. On Monday morning, September 4, the school was finally certified as safe by a city engineer and the Parents' Association decided to cancel its call to keep the children home. "The solutions so far to the parking problem are not enough," Prudovsky adds. "The situation is chaotic. Nevertheless, we decided to keep the school open even though it is difficult to get in and out... We will continue to fight for additional parking spots. We would like at least 10 or more. Maybe spots could be created on the pavement along Rehov Menashe Ben-Israel and Rehov Rabbi Akiva. "All I can say is that if there is no change for the better, it will become impossible to go on." The municipal spokesman's office told IJ that: "In coordination between the municipality and the parents, the following work was carried out: completion of a new main entrance from Independence Park, increasing the height of the fence around the school on Rehov Rabbi Akiva, allocating and marking signs for dropping off and picking up students on Rehov Hillel, Menashe Ben-Israel and Aviad and preventing students from entering the area underneath the crane."