Braemar mural gives school cul-de-sac back to students

At Braemar Elementary, they get the big picture.

Specifically, a massive mural that now adorns the cul-de-sac outside the main entrance, welcoming students.

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More than 100 Braemar students and parents turned out Saturday to help designer Rob Zylstra paint the street.

“It’s a way of symbolizing that this is a public space and that it belongs to everyone, not just drivers,” Martyn Schmoll, a Braemar parent and Safe Routes Advocates member who lobbied for the project.

Already, pick-ups and drop-offs in front of the school are illegal under the district’s bylaw but the law is rarely observed, said principal Sandra Singh, who likes to greet pupils and parents each morning.

“There have been moments where my heart’s come to my throat and I’m thinking, ‘This is not safe. This is not safe for the kids at our school,’” she said. “I really want this space to be taken back by our kids. I want this space utilized for something other than a turnaround for parents to whiz through the cul-de-sac.”

During the last Bike to School Week – when the entire street was closed off – there was an average of 85 bikes locked up outside each day, about a fifth of the student population.

“It was just so amazing. Kids were popping wheelies off the curbs and racing around and they were on skateboards and running around and playing hopscotch,” Schmoll said. “Without exception, every parent was asking, ‘Oh my god, we are we not doing this all the time? This is so lovely.’”

At first, District of North Vancouver staff were less than accommodating of the school community’s requests for a mural, but district Couns. Jordan Back and Mathew Bond won support for a motion in July giving the project the go-ahead and making it easier for other schools to do the same.

Now, like a person on a bike, Singh said she feels they’ve got momentum and hopes the project can be scaled up and replicated around the entire district.

“Not just during bike week. We want this to be part of our culture. It’s the North Shore. If people could, I think they would,” she said. “There are models used in Europe where you completely close down a section of the road so children and parents and families can access that space safely. So we need to create the space in order for the mindset to change.”

More than encouraging healthier, pollution-free commutes to school, Singh said she feels the mural itself is representative of the Braemar community.

“It’s an open free space with that beautiful circle that signifies unity and equality and the lines within it represented interconnectedness. I see that representing the Braemar school community – who we are and who we strive to be every single day,” she said.

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