SD308 Director of Transportation Derrick Berlin and Jodi Ancel, principal at Lakewood Creek Elementary School, presented plans to the Board of Education Monday evening to construct a vehicle staging lot intended to alleviate traffic flow problems and improve pedestrian safety at the Montgomery school.
But board members questioned the cost and other issues related to the project.
The matter was first discussed at the Feb. 7 meeting of the board’s facilities and planning advisory committee. The committee recommended seeking bids to create the staging lot on the north side of the school, that would feature a swing gate to guide traffic. The lot would hold 140 cars entering from Lakewood Creek Drive and feed into the drive-up lane at the school, where parents could pick up their students.
After opening bids, the committee later recommended that the contract be awarded to S&K Excavating and Trucking, for a total of $220,013 that would include both the proposed lot and two project alternates.
“This will definitely have a formula to increase the safety (of students),” Berlin said.
Due to a lack of loading space for vehicles in the school’s north parking lot, traffic frequently backs up onto the opposite side of Lakewood Creek Drive, as well as both sides of three adjacent side streets. Currently, the drive-up lane, located to the north of the school, holds 16 vehicles at the time. Parents and students who arrive in the morning for breakfast, Kids Connection, and the morning line-up use the same drive, leading to safety concerns when students have to navigate the maze of cars to enter the school in the morning. Parents also park on the side streets and walk their students over to the school, often blocking the driveways of homeowners.
Officials deemed the project necessary, due to the high number of students who walk to school, ride a bike, or are dropped off by parents. According to SD308 enrollment data, Lakewood Creek is the largest elementary school in the district, with 776 students enrolled as of Jan. 2. Of those students, about 70 take the bus to-and-from school, while approximately 300 vehicles drop off and pick up students each school day - a number that increases on days with poor weather.
The situation becomes so severe at times, Ancel said, that on days when the weather is poor, school does not begin until about 9 a.m., at least 15 minutes late. The last students to leave school at the end of the day often don’t do so until 4 p.m.
Berlin and Ancel also described the hazards that the current situation presents to students, parents and faculty. In the 2016-17 school year: two students were reportedly injured by moving vehicles on the way home from school, five traffic accidents occurred during drop-off or pick-up times, there were four driver altercations in the parking lot due to individuals bypassing other vehicles, and school employees have been routinely mistreated while attempting to regulate the flow of traffic.
“When people are in a hurry, they’re in a hurry, and they’re only focused on themselves,” Ancel said. “But we have 776 children.”
Ancel detailed several steps to curb the problem since 2015 including: staggered dismissal times by grade level, increasing the number of employees assisting with loading and unloading students, outlining procedures in newsletters and e-mail communications each week, posting signs, having a Montgomery police officer on site to assist with traffic control, placing blockades in the parking lot to direct traffic flow, conducting a traffic study and exploring possible transportation costs.
Board member Matt Bauman questioned the number of community meetings hosted by the school to discuss the matter. Ancel stated that there have been no meetings, except through the Home and School group - which both acknowledged has “terrible” attendance. Bauman, who lives in the area, said that he “dreads” coming home at that time of day and having to avoid Lakewood Creek Drive, saying, “It is problematic, and part of it is adults being irresponsible and not acting like adults when they’re in a car.”
He encouraged enhanced communication and community meetings regarding the issue, as well as with the village of Montgomery to see if any other steps could be taken before creating the lot.
Bauman also raised concerns over the discussion in relation to the district’s budgetary issues.
“There’s no argument that something has to change,” he said. “It’s hard to talk about baseball fields, it’s hard to talk about parking lots when we’re talking about class sizes, RIFs, and everything else that’s going on...tie it into our current climate and what we’re discussing, it’s hard to talk about $220,000 for that.”
Ancel said that the only reason she would disagree with Bauman would be the safety concerns for students.
“When you get in an ambulance with a child or you run down the street to a car accident and pull two children out of a car...the safety of our children is the most important thing in the world to parents, to district administrators, to building administrators,” she said. “I do fully understand the impact of the budget.”
Board member Brent Lightfoot, who called the presentation “tone-deaf” in the wake of the district’s budgetary issues, also echoed Bauman’s sentiments by asking what the other options were.
“It sounds like we have ideas here all around the room of things we can work on,” he said.
Lightfoot, who said he could “never support” spending money that doesn’t go towards replacing teachers and maintaining classrooms, advised Ancel to plan for the possibility that the board would turn down the proposal by looking at alternative options.
Board member Toni Morgan, who also called for increased public communication, praised the importance and safety issues raised by the presentation and asked if there would be a way to allow the children of parents who are following the parking rules and using the area legally to be dismissed first, before the children of those who are breaking the rules.
“Absolutely,” Ancel said.
Morgan also acknowedged the safety issue in relation to the state of the district’s budget.
“We have to be very careful that when we look at $220,000, we remember how much it costs when something happens to a child,” she said. “I know that we have to be fiscally responsible, but that’s part of being fiscally responsible, making sure that these children did not meet harm because we were neglectful.”
The board will next meet on Monday, April 23, at 7:15 p.m. in the Community Room of Oswego East High School.