EMMAUS, Pa. - Only school buses will be allowed to use the main entrance off Sauerkraut Lane to get to Willow Lane Elementary School, while all parents dropping off or picking up children will have to use a separate driveway off Mill Creek Road.
Keeping car and bus traffic separate is an integral part of safety improvements proposed for the school by East Penn School District Monday night.
The change is exactly the opposite of the way children now are dropped off and picked up.
"We just sort of flipped the traffic around," said East Penn Superintendent Thomas Seidenberger.
East Penn's school board anticipates voting on the district's on-site improvement plan, which has a price tag of $89,356, at its March 11 meeting – after getting feedback from parents of Willow Lane students.
Board member Ken Bacher, who made a motion to delay the vote after the plan was presented at Monday's board meeting, said the improvements are necessary. But he wants Willow Lane parents to have a chance to see and "weigh in on" the plan before the board acts on it. Bacher explained parents can do that by contacting individual board members or administrators or by speaking at the March 11 meeting before the board votes on the plan.
Some Willow Lane parents are frustrated because the school board's procedures prevent them from having a direct dialogue with the board about changes proposed at the elementary school, especially plans to end bus transportation for students who live within 1.5 miles of the school.
Seidenberger said even if the school district decides to do nothing about making more students walk to Willow Lane in the next school year, "we still have a traffic problem at Willow Lane."
Board president Charles Ballard agreed, saying: "This looks like a plan to fix a problem that exists on the property whether or not we discuss any busing changes."
A Lower Macungie Township fire station is next to Willow Lane Elementary and the school and fire department share the driveway off Sauerkraut Lane. Seidenberger said fire trucks might have trouble responding to emergencies if "cars are lined up and stuck in traffic coming in the main entrance of Willow Lane." He's concerned about accidents.
East Penn is experiencing a large increase in the number of cars coming to the school, said Paul Szewczak, the school district's engineer. Those cars are stacked up in the main entrance driveway and even "bleeding out" onto Sauerkraut Lane.
Szewczak said township officials are concerned all those cars could hinder the ability of fire trucks to leave the fire station.
Other on-site improvements outlined by Szewczak include:
• Adding more paving so buses have more room to turn around.
• Erecting two "swinging arm" gates that will be kept closed at drop-off and pick-up times, to prevent cars from using the main entrance off Sauerkraut Lane. Those gates will keep car and bus traffic segregated at those busy times.
• Reconfiguring a walkway that follows the driveway off Mill Creek Road, so children walking that way to school only have to cross that driveway once, at a crosswalk with stop signs that will be staffed by school personnel. The current walkway requires crossing the driveways three times.
• Restriping parking areas and erecting new signs, including some warning the main entrance is only for buses and emergency vehicles.
The engineer also proposed possibly extending a walking path along the rear of the school, which would cost an additional $9,226. He indicated the current walking path ends at the west side of the rear of the school but students come out the east side.
"Why has there been no opportunity for public review and comment on the specific on-site improvements?" asked resident Susan Coenen, a parent of Willow Lane students, before the board discussed the improvements. "How can the administration seek board approval for on-site changes without seeking any input or feedback from parents?"
Lee Larussa, another parent, told the board "you consistently hear from parents wanting to have their concerns voiced in a dialogue fashion as opposed to us coming up and just making statements."
Board member Julian Stolz said voting on the plan before hearing from parents would not "inspire a lot of confidence that their concerns are going to be taken seriously. I'd like to hear parents' input on this. We owe it to them to listen to them."
Bacher made the motion to wait until March 11 to act on approving the plan, which the board approved by a 6-3 vote. Ballard, who did not support delaying the vote, suggested some people will oppose the plan no matter how much time they have to review it. Ballard, Francee Fuller and Rebecca Heid voted against the delay.
Seidenberger said waiting until March 11 is not a problem as long as he has board approval before the school district presents its plan to Lower Macungie commissioners' planning and zoning committee at 4 p.m. March 14.
That committee, which consists of two commissioners, will make a recommendation to all five commissioners, who will vote to reapprove the school's site plan at a public meeting. Szewczak explained that has to be done because the plan is "an ever-so-slight modification of the original approval" of the school by Lower Macungie.
"We do not expect any difficulties at all," predicted Seidenberger, adding Lower Macungie officials "promised us they will expedite our request, with no prolonged red tape from the township."
He said Lower Macungie's staff and engineer already reviewed the district's plan," had very few if any comments and liked our recommendations to solve this problem."
The superintendent said East Penn will not seek bids on the project until it has approval from the township. He anticipates a bid will be awarded in April or May and the work will begin as soon as this school year ends. He said improvements will take only a week or two to complete. "This will be done by late June or early July at the latest."
Lower Macungie plans to spend about $185,000 for off-site safety improvements around Willow Lane, including flashing school zone signs, crosswalks, handicapped ramps and stop signs.
"I will not recommend any walkers walk unless the township's improvements are in place and operable before the beginning of school," said Seidenberger.
He also noted he has not yet made a recommendation to the school board about whether Willow Lane students no longer will have bus transportation if they live .75 miles or 1.5 miles from the school. He indicated he will make that recommendation after Lower Macungie votes on its off-site improvements for the school.
After the school board approves the improvements, Seidenberger said Anthony Moyer, principal at Willow Lane, will explain the better traffic flow to parents and work with them.
Moyer plans to develop a committee of parents. "Dr. Moyer works beautifully with parents," said Fuller, adding she is confident he will work with parents to meet their expectations regarding the safety of the children.
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