Ridge High School's Traffic Solution a District Priority
Bernards Board of Education begins discussing this school year's goals, including solving the high school traffic problem that hasn't gone away.
New Schools Superintendent Nick Markarian and other Board of Education members began ticking off a tentitive list of goals for the 2012-13 school year — and along with consideration of additional Advanced Placement courses and generating revenue for the district, the goal that's been front and center for almost nine months is dealing with Ridge High School's traffic problem.
If school officials had any doubts, three homeowners who live along South Finley Avenue near the main entrance to the high school at 268 S. Finley Ave. showed up at Monday's meeting to protest the school district's current preferred solution.
Markarian said the township's traffic consultant already has asked Somerset County to add a left-turn lane on South Finley that would allow turning the one-way exit from the school's driveway through the township health department into a one-way entrance. The entrance then could allow drivers, including students, to enter the side and park school parking lots at the northern end of the school property.
The county has asked for additional information, which the school district is providing, he said. School officials have been looking for a long-term alternative to sending the Ridge buses to drop off at the next-door Cedar Hill Elementary School, as has been done since February, an arrangement that has angered that school's neighbors.
But homeowner Bill Connors, who lives at 265 S. Finley Ave., across from the health department, said on Monday that the school officials should consider other alternatives. And he chided the school district in general for conducting major improvements and an expansion at the high school without ever coming up with a traffic solution as part of a $54-million schools referendum approved by township voters in 2005.
"We spent $54 million and didn't have a drop-off in front of the [new] gymnasium," Connors said. Even now, he said the district could solve the traffic flow problem for less money, and without impinging further on neighbors, by removing some of the curbing and concrete in front of the new gym's entrance.
That also would allow vehicles other than school buses to drop off students by being diverted through the parking lot by the new school gym, Connors suggested.
Other ideas he brought up included blocking cars from entering the school loop at all between 7:10 a.m. to 7:20 a.m., when most of the school buses would arrive. "Is that annoying to some parents? Of course it is," he noted. But he said that other school district's impose such traffic restrictions.
Connors said that township school officials have done a "fantastic job" of educating students, but as far as facilities management had earned an "F."
Connors also questioned the board's expenditure of more than $21,000 total to commission two studies from the same traffic consultant whom he said had six years ago suggested the exit through the adjoining health department — and is now suggesting it be turned into an entrance.
In addition, he said that school officials had said that prior to the $54-million referendum that the back lots would not be used by students, mostly seniors.
Markarian said afterward that in 2005 he had been part of the administration at the William Annin Middle School.
But he said that planning would require sufficient parking for a building holding as many people as Ridge High School.
Two other neighbors, Eileen Walsh, and Parag Dhagat, who live on either side of the main school entrance, said they endorsed Connors' comments.
Walsh said that in the 20-plus years she has lived in her home, a new entrance had been installed alongside her property and part of her back yard had been taken to create parking lot "A" in front of the new gym. She said that it also is difficult living with uncertainty about what school officials will do next to address traffic flow at the high school.
School Board President Susan McGowan told the residents that the board's subcommittees, including the facilities committee, would be meeting prior to the next scheduled school board meeting and will discuss some of the comments made by the neighbors.
School board members also agreed to come up with more ideas for the board's goals for 2012-13 through discussions in subcommittees.
Board Member Michael Byrne said the board's and consultant's suggestions for a cost-effective and preferred solution for traffic has been the paving of gravel emergency access road between the municipal complex and the school parking lots. The board has asked that car traffic be allowed to enter only via that access road during school mornings. "I think our primary solution has been taken off the table," Byrne said.