It’s a tricky section of the busy road, with the speed limit dropping from 50 miles per hour (mph) to the 15 mph school zone speed. Excessive speed in front of the school has long been a problem, said Roy Mikelson, principal at WCA. Every year has been a little bit worse, he added, and the school has dealt with numerous accidents over the years as people stopped to turn in and were rear ended by people not paying attention.
Regular school zone signs were put up initially several years ago, but had no impact on the speed of traffic, Mikelson said. Next, the Department of Transportation upgraded the signs to include the hours that the 15 mph limit was in effect. Those didn’t work either. “They just became invisible. People are used to travelling 50 miles an hour past here and [the signs] didn’t work,” said Mikelson.
Mikelson said he is grateful to the Windham Police Department and Chief Schofield, who recognized that there was a problem. At times last year, an officer was parked on the side of the road by the school in the morning, which did have an impact on speed.
But this presented a new problem, according to Mikelson. People got in the habit of slowing down, even when there wasn’t an officer parked nearby, but other motorists who didn’t understand why they were slowing down became irate, honking, screaming at people and passing on the right in the breakdown lane.
Although the problem has been ongoing, the flashing lights weren’t installed prior to this year primarily because of the expense. Because the DOT isn’t legally required to put flashing lights on the signs, the $10,000 to $12,000 needed for the installation had to come from the school. With public schools, tax dollars pay for lights when needed, Mikelson said, but as a private school, WCA doesn’t have that funding. Resources have held them back until now, but as the problem progressed they decided they just had to go ahead and do it, despite the cost.
The lights were installed in late August. A first day glitch on Tuesday showed how effective the lights can be. On that first day of school, the lights only worked on the side heading in from Raymond. Mikelson said they had reprogrammed the light and were hoping it would work at the end of the day. He added that it was clear that the lights are effective, as the traffic coming from Raymond had slowed while cars heading towards Raymond from Windham did not. “It definitely gets people’s attention with the flashing lights,” he said.
“I’m very hopeful that this is going to be a major upgrade for us as far as the safety of our students and their families,” Mikelson said.