Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 06 May 2011 00:00
Preliminary traffic study findings near the Cross Street School were released during the April 27 Mineola School District Board of Education meeting at Willis Avenue School. The traffic study was ordered by the Village of Williston Park to gauge the congestion issues that could occur after Cross Street closes and the building is leased to the Solomon Schechter Day School (SSDS) of Nassau County in Glen Cove.
District Superintendent Michael Nagler stressed before the presentation that these findings are not final, called them a simple “report to the board” and said that a final report on the traffic study could be produced sometime in May. The Village of Williston Park has also commissioned its own traffic report on the school.
“I want to be clear on what it is and what it isn’t,” Nagler said. “When we engaged in the traffic study, part of the procedure was observations by the company and then an update to the board, followed by more observations and then a report. Tonight, it is not a report, it is not a written report, it is a conversation with the board in public because that’s the way we do business and it’s not final.”
Robert Eschbacher of Hauppauge-based VHB Engineering conducted a “series of observations” in and around Cross Street, St. Aidan’s and the surrounding neighborhood since being commissioned at the March 24 meeting of the board of education. Williston Park suggested the district use VHB, according to Nagler.
Eschbacher and his team analyzed bus movements, parent drop-off/pickup activity, pedestrian activity and parking utilization. He stated that as part of the observation, the team compiled an inventory of traffic signs, traffic regulations and parking regulations on nearby streets.
“We did this so we’d have a comprehensive understanding of what drivers are and are not permitted to do,” Eschbacher said. “In analyzing information that we gathered so far, we’re planning additional site visits now that the district’s spring break is over.”
Some of the goals of the studies undertaken are to evaluate present and future conditions if the Cross Street School activity were discontinued, and SSDS were to move in, according to Eschbacher. “As we go through that, we’ll be developing recommendations to first, preserve and enhance traffic safety for the students, parents and residents of the local community, and also to develop recommendations to minimize impacts to the traffic flow for the local residents and visitors and emergency service providers,” he said.
Eschbacher continued that he and his team are trying to develop recommendations which are more operational in nature and ideally would not involve changes to the existing traffic flow patterns or parking regulations. He wanted to provide recommendations, which could be adapted to suit possible changing conditions in the future.
His preliminary findings suggest three points of interest to be addressed. First, that the arrival and dismissal times for Cross Street and St. Aidan’s do not overlap.
“Solomon Schechter Day School should arrange its schedules accordingly to maintain this separation of arrival and dismissal times,” Eschbacher said, noting that most of the pick up and dismissal activity generally takes place within a 15 minute window.
The second point deals with the number of buses for SSDS. Eschbacher recommended that the afternoon departure of SSDS “should be controlled” so that all the buses are not dismissed at the same time. A staggered dismissal is thought to “spread out the dismissal onto the local streets,” as Eschbacher said that dismissal en masse would result in “some backups on the streets as they’re trying to get out of there.”
The final issue involves student parking in the planned expanded parking lot off Meagher Place on the south side of the school. It was Eschbacher’s view that even with the expansion, due to the use of the lot and use as a drop-off site for smaller buses, that an off-site student parking location should be secured.
Approximately 10 spaces were planned to be set aside to accommodate students who drive to the school, which, according to the head of the school, Rabbi Lev Herrnson, are few. Herrnson will be stepping down as head of school in July.
“We anticipate enrollment next year at the Cross Street School for our school to be 222 students,” Herrnson said. “That’s based on our current enrollment and current projections.”
SSDS currently has 50 seniors in the school and fewer than 20 drivers to school. According to Herrnson, SSDS will have 30 senior students next year and the driving number will decrease.
“My contract expires at the end of this school year and it was not my intention to renew,” Herrnson said. “I’ve said I would be the person who would be primarily responsible in executing this transition. That is still very much my intention regardless of when the new head of school assumes the role.”
Williston Park resident Fred Packer felt quite differently about the planned lease of the Cross Street School. He had several issues.
“Firstly, the increased traffic that will likely result in the study,” he said. “Number two, it appears the engineering firm has been directed to only look at operational solutions to any traffic problem.”
Packer stated that it’s almost impossible to enforce changes during school dismissal in that part of the neighborhood. “I don’t believe operational solutions are realistic,” he said. “We heard the student population of the school will reduce year over year. I think the board needs to understand that [the school] wouldn’t be moving here with the intention to reduce the population that they have.
They’re running a business, non-profit likely, but they want to come here in a central location and increase their student population to the maximum laid out in the lease,” Packer said.
Dr. Nagler said that no one instructed VHB to only look at operational changes. Furthermore, he doesn’t get the impression SSDS is not looking to decrease their enrollment, but he agrees that SSDS wants a viable school and students make a viable school.
“There are restrictions in the lease,” Nagler said. “There’s a cap on the number of students and there’s a cap on the number of vehicles. “If they can’t accommodate those two factors, they cannot exceed the flat numbers. In either of those cases, they’d be breaking the lease.”
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