Bester's traffic problems still an issue

September 09, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - If you're picking up or dropping off students at Bester Elementary School, expect to wait.

The line of cars waiting for school to let out is so long, it spills out of the parking lot, onto South Potomac Street and, sometimes, around the corner onto Memorial Boulevard.

Parents have come to expect - but not like - the wait, which appears worse in the afternoon than the morning.

"It's totally, utterly ridiculous," said James D'Errico, who was picking up daughter Rachael, a third-grader, and son Nathan, who's in kindergarten.


The tail end of D'Errico's car was near South Potomac Street's northbound traffic lane, but the lot was congested and he had nowhere to go. About 40 cars and minivans were idling in front of him.

"If you're not here by 3:05, you're out on the road sticking out," said Teresa Snyder, who read a newspaper as she waited to pick up her first-grade nephew.

Students are dismissed from school at 3:25 p.m.

After many months, the Washington County Board of Education is still trying to cure Bester's traffic congestion at the beginning and end of each school day.

"It's the same problem as last year," Rod Turnbough, the board's current director of facilities management, said Tuesday. "We're still working on it."

In May 2003, Dennis McGee, the director of facilities management at the time, said a solution would come in the summer of 2004.

He said a 24-space parking lot would be built north of the school on land that is not used.

But the summer passed and the lot wasn't built. Asked why there's been a delay, Turnbough said, "That's a good question."

A new version of the plan appears to be in the works.

This past winter, the school board hired Frederick Seibert & Associates, a Hagerstown engineering firm, to draw up plans, according to Keith Moore, the firm's director of engineering.

Moore said the new lot would be a dropoff point only for families bringing students to school or picking them up. Buses still would drop off and pick up students in the lot south of the school.

Carol Mowen, a spokeswoman for the school system, said Tuesday that a building plan for the new lot was submitted to the City of Hagerstown. "We are awaiting city approval," she said.

But Moore and City Engineer Rodney Tissue disputed that.

Moore said his firm hasn't finished the plans. "It's being engineered now," he said Wednesday.

Tissue said that, other than preparing a sketch plan last year, the city has not been involved.

"It's totally in their hands," he said.

Tissue couldn't estimate how long the city's review of the project would take, but said the city would act quickly.

Moore had no estimate about when the plans would be ready, but predicted that the lot could be built next spring.

A high percentage of the school's 550 or so students walk to school or get a ride from a family member, said Joanne Hilton, who took over as Bester Elementary School's principal this year.

On Wednesday, the afternoon buses left the school with about 70 students.

Hilton said the afternoon pickup is often worse because everyone is there at the same time, while the morning dropoff is usually spread out over 20 or 25 minutes.

School employees stand in the parking lot to direct traffic.

"It is hectic," Tammy Graver said Wednesday morning after dropping off her son, James Langenstein, who's in kindergarten. They had walked.

"It's not so bad for walkers, but really bad for drivers," she said.

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