SHIRLEY — On Monday night the Select Board tabled an anticipated vote on Police Chief Samuel Santiago’s request to reverse the one-way direction for vehicle traffic on School Street to west-east from east-west.
The board will revisit the matter on Jan. 30.
The one-way restriction, established several years ago to address student pick-up issues at the Lura A. White Elementary School, is now in effect from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays during the school year.
In the envisioned new scenario, vehicles picking up kids from LAW at the end of the school day would do so at the School Street entrance rather than in the parking lot off Lancaster Road, as they do now. The new one-way route would proceed onto School Street from Harvard Road, not Lancaster Road.
Santiago said the one-way re-do was part of a new pickup plan the school district came up with. Specifically, the Ayer Shirley Regional School District assistant superintendent and the LAW principal. Before he brought the request to the board, the Traffic Advisory Committee was asked to weigh in, he said.
TAC members at the meeting said the plan as presented differed from their recommendation.
Select Board member Andree Jean Jacques said the plan extended beyond reversing traffic on School Street, which could president different issues. Residents there, including herself, weren’t notified that this plan was in the works, she said, adding that parking is already a problem on the narrow roadway, with school employees parking on both sides of the street.
Residences line one side of the street. The school takes up the other, with buildings, parking areas, playground and fields stretching from Lancaster Road to Harvard Road.
With a pickup line in the middle, emergency vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks or the ambulance could be blocked, Jean Jacques said, no matter how quickly the line moves through.
Santiago said his officers would oversee the new process. “We hope this works,” he said. But he’ll let the school know if it doesn’t.
He also agreed that, whatever the board decides, neighbors as well as LAW parents should be notified.
Santiago said the proposal he’d forwarded on the school’s behalf was part of an overall plan to alleviate pickup line backups along busy Lancaster Road, a major entryway from Route 2.
As it is now, the five school buses pick up LAW students at the School Street entrance, while vehicles collecting kids after school do so from the rear parking lot off Lancaster Road. Cars idle in line along that short stretch of roadway, temporarily narrowing it as they wait to turn into the lot, as trucks barrel by and other daily traffic continues in both directions.
Deftly managed by LAW Principal Beth Lewis and school personnel, the existing pickup plan goes like clockwork once cars are in the parking lot, where orange cones mark the one-lane pass through and teachers usher students into their vehicles.
But that doesn’t address traffic issues on Lancaster Road. Which is why this new plan was proposed,
Select Board member Debra Flagg, a retired LAW teacher who taught at the school for more than 20 years and still works part-time for the district, was skeptical.
“It doesn’t make sense … to me,” Flagg said.
For example, she expressed doubt the school buses could turn around in the rear lot, with obstructions and packed with parked cars. However, Santiago said there had been a successful trial run.
“I’d like to see that,” she said.
Flagg didn’t think switching the one-way direction on School Street and shifting the pick-up area there from Lancaster Road were good ideas, either.
“I want to be sure we don’t get bogged up on Harvard Road instead,” she said, adding some kids walk to school and the new pattern might be less safe for them.
Town Administrator Mike McGovern suggested the field at the Harvard Road and School Street intersection could be used for parking.
Now, maybe, Flagg said, but not after the sports season starts. She also forwarded some ideas of her own, including a one-side only parking rule on School Street.
While reminding the board that the issue was about pickup, not drop off, Santiago didn’t argue for the proposal, per se, but said he was ready to carry it out on the board’s say-so, with the Department of Public Works on standby to post new signs on School Street, if needed.
Jean Jacques said she’d like “someone from the school” to come in and speak to this issue. Flagg agreed.
Wrapping up the lengthy discussion, the board agreed to take the matter up again on Jan. 30 and to invite TAC members and ASRSD representatives to join the discussion, along with Santiago.
“This has to be done correctly … with everybody on the same page,” Flagg said.