Don’t think it’s escaped notice that Day Two of the 2008 Republican National Convention, which will bring 45,000 folks to the Twin Cities, is Day One of school for a gazillion students in classrooms all over the metro area, including the University of Minnesota.
The potential problems that Sept. 2 could bring — given the tens of thousands of visitors, their assorted vehicles and the possibility of some road closures — are only beginning to be sorted out by convention planners.
For starters, much of that convention traffic likely will travel Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul, past the U of M exits. Consequently, the university will urge more students, staff and faculty to take mass transit, bike, walk or carpool to classes, exceeding the current 40,000 who reach campus by these methods, said U spokesman Daniel Wolter.
Downtown St. Paul faces challenges
The greatest impact, however, may be seen in downtown St. Paul, where there will be security and road restrictions near the Xcel Energy Center, site of the convention.
One question: What will it mean for school traffic to encounter 200 to 300 buses packed with conventioneers streaming into downtown from the interstates?
The primary concern involves transportation and making sure school buses arrive and depart on time, says Suzanne Kelly, chief of staff for St. Paul Schools. And that’s seldom more important than during the first days of school, when students are just getting to know their bus route and driver.
The Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School, where nearly 500 kids file on and off buses most weekdays, sits on Kellogg Boulevard, only blocks from Xcel. Other St. Paul school bus routes snake through or along downtown streets or use major traffic arteries, such as interstates 35E and 94, which means district staff will be reviewing bus routes for potential problems, Kelly said.
“We’re a downtown school, and we know about traffic,” said Wellstone principal Christine Osorio. That means getting students quickly and safely on and off buses, as usual, she said.
Downtown arts school assessing options
Even nearer the convention site is the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, a charter high school for almost 400 students with classrooms in Landmark Center and other nearby buildings.
At the conservatory, which draws from all over the metro area, students often arrive in private vehicles. School staff and board are looking at options, including starting the school year later — or starting earlier and taking a break for a week, according to academic director Maria Kelly.
The St. Paul school district, too, will consider changes to its calendar in coming months, when city, police and fire officials learn more.
Erin Dady, the city’s convention planner, spouts a confident, can-do attitude. “We’ve talked with the people at the district and given a 100 percent commitment to work through anything together, though we feel disruptions in downtown St. Paul will be limited,” she said.
“We certainly don’t anticipate any transportation issues or any problem getting in and out of town,” agreed Matt Burns, director of communications for the convention. Burns said the convention is in the process of putting together a comprehensive transportation plan and selecting a transportation management company.
Most convention business is likely to be conducted in the evening, he said, lessening school-time traffic problems.
Still, the school people are planners, too. “We want to make sure we are well covered for every eventuality” to make those first days a “great start” to the school year, Kelly said.