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The Olympian, April 2010

Northeast did the hard work to help its children
THE OLYMPIAN editorial| • Published April 06, 2010

The 200 residents who make up the Northeast Neighborhood Association can hold their heads proud. They have done the hard work to tackle a community safety hazard that put the lives of Roosevelt Elementary School students at risk.

Thanks to the work of association members, and with funding from an Olympia School District levy, the drop-off area at the school will be revamped this summer to make it safer for bicyclists, pedestrians and automobiles.

“It’s just a catastrophe waiting to happen,” said Callie Jones, who bikes to Roosevelt with her daughter Kayla, 7, and tows her son, Logan, 3, and sometimes her daughter Kelsi, 5, behind her.

The drop-off area near the intersection of Bethel Street and San Francisco Avenue was designed decades ago when there were far fewer people sharing neighborhood streets. As the neighborhood has expanded and added new residents, the problem has magnified.

The safety issue bubbled to the top of the neighborhood association’s agenda and under the leadership of president Peter Guttchen, residents pushed for a solution. They’ve been on that path for six long years.

They spent grant money to hire an engineer to draw up plans to improve the school drop-off location. They put together a project budget and timeline. They wrote letters to the fire department, the city community planning and development department, and transportation officials. The group went to community meetings and to school board meetings. They partnered with city staff members.

“We did the leg work to give them the kind of data that they need to make decisions,” said Guttchen, who has presided over the neighborhood association since 2000. The neighborhood association’s 200 members live on the hills overlooking East Bay in the northeastern section of Olympia.

Serving on a neighborhood association board of directors is not an easy assignment. It’s hard work, as shown by the Roosevelt School example.

Associations are democracy at work at the neighborhood level. The problems that are brought to board meetings are seldom easy to resolve. But they are problems that affect people where they live, so they generate a lot of passion and — sometimes — conflict. From tree removal to parking, from structures obstructing views to pet control and the desire to keep the neighborhood free of graffiti and litter, these thorny issues require research, leg work and determination to solve. And sometimes it takes six years to get the desired result.

The reward comes when neighbors unite and check another problem off the “to do” list.

The Northeast Neighborhood Association is about to cross the Roosevelt School safety issue off the list.

Roosevelt Principal Domenico Spatola-Knoll said the proposed plan looks like a good one. The $100,000 to rework the drop off area was part of the district’s levy request to voters.

“It’s a good, positive relationship,” Spatola-Knoll said of the partnership between the neighborhood association, school and others.

“Our school benefits, our kids benefit from it and our community benefits from it.”

The resolution isn’t the neighborhood association’s first success — and it won’t be the last. Making the neighborhood more walkable is a big part of the neighborhood association’s job and to that end getting the sidewalk in place on the San Francisco Avenue hill was a major accomplishment.

Several other sidewalks have been built in the neighborhood as well, all championed by the neighborhood association.

All this takes work, but it also creates community — neighbors working with neighbors for a common good and toward a common goal of improving their section of the city.

Melinda Spencer, who maintains the Web site for the neighborhood association and has a hand in all kinds of projects, said, “This was just an amazing lesson in how powerful it can be to support something from the bottom up.”

She’s absolutely right.

And it’s these kind of success stories at the neighborhood level that make South Sound such a great place to live.

Read more: http://www.theolympian.com/2010/04/06/1196434/northeast-did-the-hard-work-to.html#ixzz0kKybvzT9