Wal-Mart traffic worries neighbors

Some fear the new store will affect their children’s safety.
Thursday, January 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:57 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Mary Paxton Keeley Elementary School opened its doors in the Park De Ville neighborhood in fall 2002, the area was a quiet, residential section of Columbia.

That’s changing quickly.

“It’s going to be a madhouse over here,” Jennifer Holt, mother of a Paxton Keeley student, said as she waited to pick up her child.

Parents at Paxton Keeley are raising questions about how a Wal-Mart Supercenter planned for land at Fairview Road and West Broadway will affect their children’s safety. While the Kroenke Group is still negotiating with neighbors about the size and layout of the development, its eventual construction seems certain.

The proposed store would lie east of Park De Ville Drive and across the street from the school. Traffic on Park De Ville, a narrow residential street, is already a concern for some parents, who say a Wal-Mart would bring dangerous amounts of additional traffic.

“The traffic is already so bad,” Holt said. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like once the new store is here.”

John Glascock, chief engineer for the Columbia Public Works Department, said he’s unable to predict how much traffic the Wal-Mart would feed onto Park De Ville without seeing site plans. “I imagine it will draw the amount of traffic a retail store normally does,” he said.

Some parents and residents of the Park De Ville area think widening Park De Ville Drive would help keep the area safe. Kelly Veach, the father of a fifth-grader and a third-grader at Paxton Keeley, believes the road is too narrow.

“It’s too constricted,” Veach said. “They’ve got too much congestion, and you can get trapped in there with all of the school traffic.”

Glascock said Park De Ville is about 32 feet wide. He doesn’t believe widening it will make the area safer.

“People drive faster on wider streets sometimes,” Glascock said.

Aside from traffic issues, Holt worries that the store will attract more people to the area and increase the risk of someone harming a child.

“I don’t think they’re taking in mind that there’s a school here,” Holt said. “They’re going to be drawing panhandlers and other scary people to the area.”

Elaine Hassemer, Paxton Keeley principal, said that the school already has a stringent security system that makes it almost impossible for an intruder to enter the building.

“We lock all of the outside doors to the building during the day,” Hassemer said.

Two adults equipped with two-way radios also communicate with school administrators while students are on the playground. And the Columbia Police Department supplies one adult crossing guard for Park De Ville students. Hassemer said school officials could consider building a fence.

Sandy Oberkirsch, a Paxton Keeley parent, said she is confident school employees can keep students safe.

“(Hassemer) and the staff are cognizant of what’s going on, and they’ll stay on top of it,” Oberkirsch said. “I wish (the store) wasn’t going in, but I think they’ll control it.”

Despite some neighborhood opposition, some parents are trying to establish a positive relationship with Wal-Mart, said Paxton Keeley PTA President Mary Kuligowski.

“My hopes would be that we’d gain them as a Partner in Education as we did with Hy-Vee,” Kuligowski said. “Hopefully, the school and Wal-Mart would work together to ensure the safety of the kids.”

Kuligowski said cooperation is key to ensuring children’s safety. “If (parents) are cooperative instead of antagonistic, hopefully (Wal-Mart) can take steps to make sure the kids’ safety is taken care of,” she said.

Veach said parents’ anxiety is understandable. “There’s going to be a lot of fears that go along with this, but they will probably turn out to be unfounded.”

Nevertheless, some parents say Paxton Keeley has already lost some of its appeal. Holt said the arrival of Wal-Mart might prompt her and her husband to look at other schools.

“Paxton was in a quiet neighborhood, and this takes that away,” Holt said. “We might send our kids somewhere else.”

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