Facing Whitehills and Donley Schools Combo, Parents Raise Safety Concerns
With the combining of the Whitehills and Donley Elementary Schools populations onto one site just a few months away, parents are raising concerns about how traffic safety will be managed.
Superintendent Dori Leyko tells ELi the school district has a plan.
The East Lansing Public Schools bond that passed in 2017 means the total reconstruction of five elementary schools.
The populations of both Whitehills and Donley will be at the Donley school property for the 2019-20 school year. Donley students will move into the new Donley building, which has been constructed behind the old building, and Whitehills students will inhabit the old Donley building as Whitehills is being rebuilt.
Whitehills parent Jen Gorchow estimates that with about 600 students on the one school property, there will be significant traffic congestion and safety risks.
“With two elementary schools on one site, the amount of traffic at drop-off and pick-up will be unmanageable,” Gorchow said in an email to ELi. “As it stands now, pick-up at Donley is very congested, and that is with only one school operating on the site.”
Shawn Farzam is the father of three students attending Donley in the fall. Speaking at the May 20 school board meeting, Farzam said there are directions for traffic flow at the school, but people fail to follow them.
“[Some] people know they’re not following the directions, [and] they still do it,” Farzam said. “[Other] people don’t know they’re not following directions, so they still do it.”
He suggested that adding signs where there are none and strategically applying road paint would improve students’ safety on paths that are commonly used by students and their families.
“There’s no street signage on Highgate [Avenue] off of Lake Lansing [Road],” Farzam said. “So, if people turn right onto Highgate and there are people crossing and there are cars parked, there is no way to see any kids coming to or from that path. There’s no signage or street paint connecting Highgate crossing the street.”
Farzam believes that telling parents to park in the surrounding Heritage Hills neighborhood invites a significant safety concern.
“People are being told to park on Colony and Highgate,” Farzam said at the meeting. “It is going to cause safety issues for the kids, especially in the wintertime when the plow tries to come through.”
Another parent who spoke at the May 20 meeting was Tabitha Zimny of Whitehills, who asked for a temporary suspension of the 1.5-mile busing rule. This rule says that any student living farther than 1.5 miles from her or his school can receive bus transportation.
Whitehills falls within the 1.5-mile range of the Donley property and therefore does not automatically qualify for busing.
Zimny asked for “just one” bus or shuttle spot for the students from Whitehills. She said that this stop “could relieve a significant portion of traffic that’s going to come” from Whitehills to Donley for the year.
She added that the parents are offering to find out the ridership numbers for the potential bus, saying, “if you could give us a couple of months to make sure the ridership is there, [and] if it is not, obviously we have all completely misjudged.”
Leyko: Additional drop-off/pick-up locations will ease congestion
Leyko explained that the school district has conducted research to address the potential traffic problems that having 600 students at that site could cause.
She explained that the district looked at student enrollment data, including the number of students who qualify for busing, the number who are within the designated walkable distance of 1.5 miles, the number of non-resident students “who are most likely driven to school,” current bus routes and ridership, cost of adding buses, maps to identify alternative drop-off locations, and more.
Leyko explained that the district’s plan to address the traffic congestion includes adding another drop-off and pick-up area at the Donley property.
“During the time that two school populations will occupy this site, there will be an additional drop-off/pick-up loop at the school,” Leyko said in an email to ELi.
“So, there will be one shared bus loop during this time and two separate parking lots and parent drop-off/pick-up loops, one for each building,” she wrote. “We’ve also added additional temporary staff parking.”
She added that “We hope that many students will walk or bike to school if they live near the school.”
Leyko also explained that alternative drop-off locations are being identified and that families will be notified as that happens.
Rebecca Blake, a Whitehills parent, emailed ELi directly and explained that many of the parents concerned are also supporters of the school bond behind reconstruction, and so seem to accept that issues will come with this reconstruction.
However, she added, “Busing for one year to assure the safety of all the students at the Donley location seems like a reasonable request and something the district would want to support.”
The district has been seeing rising costs for busing and came under fire earlier this year at Public Response by MSU economist, district parent, and Glencairn resident Mike Conlin for what he called “mismanagement” of busing. Conlin criticized what he identified as the district’s failure to use expert analysis in major decision-making.
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