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Coping with the big dig in Helper

t's all downhill at the end of the school day as a student begins the descent down the steep stairs on the hillside. From the bottom of the hill, he'll enter the portal of the pedestrian tunnel and cross under the four-lane highway. Next is the swinging bridge that leads to the waiting school buses, barely visible at the top of the photo.
students arrive at the end of the bridge. The span does not swing much from side to side, but it does oscillate up and down while crossing.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Mika Salas, following the scientific method that she may have learned while she was a student at Helper Junior High School, is going to test a hypothesis.

Now that she's the school principal, she says she's curious to see if first period classes show an improvement in performance because of the light exercise many students are getting before school starts. They're walking.

School buses no longer drop the kids off at the school's door. The city's infrastructure rebuild in the neighborhood has torn up the streets where buses used to drive. Instead, the kids get off the bus on First West Street at the foot of Janet Street, cross the swinging bridge over the Price River, walk through an art gallery tunnel beneath Highway 6, ascend a flight of 76 steps to the top of the hill and then walk a hundred yards or so along the Harry S Truman walkway to get to the school.

Pulse rates up

"It's enough to get their heart rates up but not enough to tire them out. They should be more awake and ready to learn," she explained Tuesday. "I'm going to keep track of it."

The students are taking the inconvenience in stride, so to speak. "They don't think it's a big deal," Salas said of the change in routine.

The reason for the distant drop-off is that a school bus, which weighs about 15 tons itself and carries a few more tons of close-packed humanity aboard, is tough to pull out of a trench. Kerry Jensen, who supervises the Carbon School District transportation system, said it was not an easy call to make. There's no way of telling what shape the roads will be in or where work will be happening on any given day, he explained. "The streets are narrow and they get slick when wet," he added.

"Nobody's to blame," Jensen said. "We're just trying to make the best of the situation."

Rams teams are also affected by the road situation. They have no home games while the roads are unpaved and parking near the school is problematic.

Helper's massive, $19 million project to repair its dilapidated water, sewer and storm systems has had its share of surprises. Excavation ran into the buried remains of the old Central School, for example, and streets whose paving had deteriorated over the decades simply crumbled when heavy equipment drove over them.

Police Chief Trent Anderson said he and his officers make daily notes of which streets are accessible and which are closed so they can inform the fire department and other public safety agencies of the routes they must take in case of emergency.

The first two phases areas are expected to be finished this fall. There are still two more construction seasons to go before the city project is complete.

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