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School cites safety to trip mall footbridge

The girls’ school (left) and the mall across the road. The proposed overbridge will link the two footpaths. (Bishwarup Dutta)

A girls’ school is opposing the civic body’s plan to build a footbridge near Quest mall on Syed Amir Ali Avenue on the grounds that the structure would compromise the privacy of the students.

The authorities of the Our Lady Queen of the Missions School, located opposite the mall, have written to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), voicing concerns over the footbridge plan.

They have also written to Lalbazar, outlining the problems of having a footbridge right outside their boundary wall where students and parents gather before and after school.

“It’s a girls’ school and there is a question of security,” said Sister Joicy of the school, which started in 1946. “The ideal position for the footbridge would have been the intersection nearby that records heavy pedestrian crossover. Alternatively, an underpass could be built.”

A school official said the classes would be in full view of pedestrians using the footbridge if it comes up as planned. “That might subject the students to unwanted attention from a section of pedestrians.”

Police and civic body representatives have held a number of meetings with the school in their attempt to resolve the impasse.

The last meeting was held on Tuesday, when deputy commissioner (traffic) Dilip Adak led a “spot inspection”. At the meeting, police and CMC representatives promised to provide a “clear description” of the project to the school authorities.

The proposed overbridge with escalators will extend from a spot on the footpath adjoining the school’s wall to another in front of gate No. 1 of the mall.

Sources said a sharp increase in footfall at the 420,000sq ft of retail and F&B space, especially on the weekends, has prompted the authorities to come up with the footbridge plan to prevent bottlenecks on the key artery.

So heavy is the weekend rush at the mall that the traffic department has created a beat — “Quest beat” — to deal with deployments and traffic management in the area.

“Traffic around Jhowtola Road, Samsul Huda Road and Beckbagan Row has increased manifold during the weekends ever since a multiplex and some restaurants opened in the mall,” said a senior traffic officer. “If pedestrian crossover is not restricted, managing traffic in the area would be impossible.”

To avoid a repeat of the traffic mess around South City Mall, the civic authorities in consultation with the traffic police have decided to build the overbridge.

“CESC Properties Ltd (which has developed the mall) will build the overbridge at its cost and pay an annual rent of Rs 18 lakh to the CMC,” said Atin Ghosh, the mayoral council member overseeing engineering projects.

Officials from CESC Properties, who were present at Tuesday’s meeting, said the footbridge would be built at an estimated cost of Rs 11 crore, “using a technology that the city has not seen”.

D.K. Sen, the managing director of CESC Properties Ltd, tried to assuage the school’s fears and appeal to the institution. “We are appreciative of others’ views. We understand that it’s a girls’ school and we respect their privacy. There will be no infringement on the school’s privacy as the footbridge will be covered from all sides. The second concern is safety and security of the girls; the safety is being enhanced. The up-and-down escalator will have a guard at each end. Another anxiety that the school had was that at night, the atrium would draw unwanted people. However, there will be shutters at both ends, which will be pulled down around 11pm. Plus, video cameras will be installed,” Sen told Metro.

“Right now, at peak traffic time, it takes a long time to cross the road, this overbridge will make that easier and safer for parents and children to cross the road.”

CESC Properties also pointed out that the school was unlikely to lose much space in front because of the construction. “The school building is located between two narrow lanes and there is a footpath of 2,220sq ft. The overbridge will use 280sq ft of that footpath, which is 11-12 per cent of the footpath. The school’s other concern was that parents use the footpath to stand, but there will still be enough space, close to 2,000sq ft where nearly 100 people can stand. Moreover, the overbridge will be 75ft away from the school gate,” Sen said.