Traffic snarls are still a problem for city school

April 21, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

When school lets out, Bester Elementary School Principal Drenna Reineck grabs her bright orange crossing guard vest.

Physical education teacher Stephanie Meredith and special education assistant Virginia Ankeney each grab a stop sign and their vests, too.

While Reineck looks on, the two teachers direct traffic flow from the school's car and bus loops, which both are lined with cars, driven by parents, who for the most part are unhappy with the traffic problems that have plagued the small school for about seven years.

Two buses with about 100 students aboard daily serve Bester, which leaves the other 400 Bester students to either walk or be driven by their parents to and from school each day, according to Chris Carter, director of transportation for Washington County Public Schools.

The 72-year-old elementary school, perched just north of the busy intersection of Memorial Boulevard and South Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown, has only one entrance and one exit, which dates back to the year it was built, Dennis McGee, Washington County Public Schools' director of facilities management, has said.


The combined size of the school's parking lot and the number of parents picking up their children has forced Reineck to think creatively about how to ease the traffic cluster:

  • Upon request, the Washington County Board of Education recently gave Reineck three crossing guard vests to help make teachers more visible when directing traffic.

  • Reineck has ordered directional traffic signs that she hopes will alleviate confusion in the school's small parking lot.

  • The school's bus loop was opened up for parents to pick up their children, which caused the bus pickup schedule to be pushed back by about 10 minutes.

About five years ago, the School Board added a timed traffic light in the intersection to allow the flow from the school to be let out more smoothly, Reineck said. Prior to that, the School Board added an additional drop-off loop to ease congestion.

Reineck helps line up the children being picked up by their parents. The row of cars moves along like a mob of people in line for a popular amusement park ride.

But to many, even though picking up their children isn't an exact science, the adjustments Reineck has made in the past month are an improvement over what they had been experiencing.

Parents of children in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade line up in the larger bus loop.

Parents of children in second through fifth grades line up in the smaller parent pickup loop.

Reineck said it took about a week for the parents and teachers to adjust to the new traffic pattern, but overall she's heard positive feedback.

"It seems like it's helped a little bit, but as far as the problem, it still exists," said Bill Berry, 40, who arrived about 45 minutes before dismissal to get a good spot in line.

Jennifer Dunn, 31, who also was waiting in her car, said rerouting the traffic has helped the speed of the pickup, but she thinks the parking lot is not safe.

On this day, three teachers, other than Meredith and Ankeney, worked to line up the children to be picked up.

"There is never this many teachers out here," said Dorothy Atha, 25.

Reineck said she didn't tell teachers that The Herald-Mail was coming to the school at dismissal. She said more teachers probably came out to say goodbye to their students before they left for spring break.

Meredith said it helps her to see parents and interact with them while she's out directing traffic.

She said she's noticed a significant reduction in problems since the school started staggering the dismissal. Cars aren't backed up into the intersection like they were before, she said.

Parent Michelle Riedle, 30, said, "That principal and those teachers are supposed to be in there teaching kids, but they come out because they're trying to keep our kids safe, which I think is awesome."

The School Board is doing an in-depth study of the school's parking lot and has "begun conversations" with the City of Hagerstown about possible solutions to the problem, said William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer.

"I can't make the lot bigger, but I can look at a parent and say 'your child is safe,'" Reineck said.

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