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Parents discuss ideas to solve parking, traffic problems at elementary school

Parents discuss ideas to solve parking, traffic problems at elementary school

October 05, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Dozens of parents of children at Bester Elementary School discussed options for the parking and traffic problems there with officials from the school and Washington County Public Schools at a meeting Monday.

Several parents said they wanted a solution implemented soon because the traffic problems are getting in the way of more crucial issues at the school.

Monday's meeting, co-sponsored by the school's Citizens Advisory Committee and the Parent Teacher Association, was designed to address possible alternatives to alleviate congestion outside the school, especially during dismissal time.

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Joanne Hilton, principal of Bester Elementary, said short-term alternatives are needed, in part because completion of a project to add a 24-space parking lot has been delayed until spring of 2005.

Hilton said an important aspect of Monday's meeting was allowing parents to offer new ideas that school officials might not have thought about.

Parents broke up into small groups and discussed several short-term and long-term options to fix the ongoing traffic congestion problems at the school.

Among the ideas the groups discussed were two options presented by school officials last month:

The "Parent Park and Walk" option would allow parents to park in a city-owned parking lot across the street and take their children to and from the school on foot. The city would have to approve that plan.

The late dismissal option would allow parents who drive their children to school to delay picking up the students until 4 p.m. The additional school time would be used for educational purposes, such as a study hall or story time, and a free snack would be provided, Hilton said.

Regular dismissal time is 3:30 p.m.

Hilton said a survey was conducted of parents who currently drive their children to school, and 41 parents said they would be interested in a late dismissal for their children, while 19 said they would be willing to park in the nearby city lot and walk their children to the door of the school.

Parents presented several other ideas to alleviate the problems, including requiring more students to ride on buses, building a catwalk over South Potomac Street, banning left turns onto South Potomac Street from all of the lot's exits and hiring more crossing guards to encourage more children to walk to school.

William Blum, chief operating officer for the Washington County Board of Education, said it would be difficult to find a solution that is both universally accepted by the parents and affordable in a time of tight budgets.

"I don't think there's going to be a perfect solution that's convenient for everyone," Blum said. "Money can solve everything, but it's hard to justify pouring a lot of money into an old building."

Some parents said they did not want to hear about a lack of money in reference to the issue.

"You can't put a price on a child's safety," said Lisa Pike, who has two daughters at the school.

Laura Shoemaker, the mother of two Bester Elementary students, said she believed a lot of good ideas were presented in her group Monday. She said she appreciated the efforts by school officials to give parents the opportunity to talk.

Shoemaker said, however, she wants to see some of those ideas implemented soon.

"We've been waiting long enough," Shoemaker said. "This time, we want something to happen because something is going to happen to one of these kids."

Several parents said the longtime traffic problems have to be solved soon because they believe other important issues - including safety of children, high turnover among Bester Elementary staff and poor standardized test scores - are not being sufficiently addressed.

"We need to get the parking problems out of the way so we can focus on the real problems," said Robert Socks, whose daughter attends the school.

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