Easthampton residents question traffic plan around new school project

  • Easthampton Superintendent of Schools Allison LeClair speaks to a meeting at Treehouse on the school traffic plan that will utilize both Button Road and River Valley Way. Bera Dunau—Gazette Staff

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2020 12:09:02 AM

EASTHAMPTON — A new traffic plan, to be put into place during the construction of the combined K-8 school, drew significant concerns from residents during a one-hour meeting on Wednesday.

“This is the first time that this community has heard about this,” said Lauren Parent, a resident of Button Road. “Four days ago, when we got a letter.”

Set to be implemented in three weeks, the traffic plan would route school traffic coming off Park Street, including school buses, one way, down Button Road through River Valley Way and down the south lane of the school access road. This is being done to allow the north lane of the school access road to be dedicated to two-way construction traffic.

This route is also adjacent to the Treehouse community and Treehouse Circle.

The community meeting with area residents was held in the Community Center at Treehouse at 11 a.m., and drew more than two dozen people. Superintendent Allison LeClair was the chief presenter, and was joined by School Building Committee Chairman Tom Brown, Bert Gardner, the new school’s architect, and Dayle Doiron, the business manager of Easthampton public schools.

The school project will combine the city’s three elementary schools — Center, Pepin and Maple — with White Brook Middle School in a new K-8 school on the middle school grounds. White Brook is set to be demolished as part of this project.

The traffic plan was recently delivered to the city by Fontaine Bros. of Springfield, the construction company that won the contract to build the new school, and LeClair said it would be in effect for two years. The traffic circle on Park Street was moved up in the construction timeline to help with the flow of traffic, and Gardner said it would be completed by the start of school in the fall.

How the traffic from the plan would interfere with commuting was an issue raised by Maria Moreno, who lives on River Valley Way.

“I’m talking about two years of me not being able to go to work on time,” Moreno said.

Moreno also said that school traffic lasts half an hour to 40 minutes at a time, contesting LeClair’s assertion that it would be 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon.

LeClair also said that signs would be put into place as part of the traffic plan. However, the effectiveness of signs was called into question by some at the meeting, including Button Road resident Amanda Judd, who has two young children, and said she already signals cars to slow down, with no success.

“I’m outside all the time with my hand in the air yelling at people,” Judd said, holding her baby, a third child of hers. “What’s a sign going to do?”

Another concern that was raised was around people parking on the route.

After the meeting, some of the signs LeClair said would be put in would be ones that announce the presence of children, ask motorists to slow down and announce that parking is not allowed.

LeClair informed residents that there would be a police presence at the start of the project, although she wasn’t able to say exactly how long it would last.

Some of the suggestions that were put forward by residents for the route included putting in temporary speed bumps, reducing the speed limit on the road for a limited time and putting in a number for residents to call if they’re experiencing issues.

While there was a lot of critical input on the plan, there was no criticism of the school project, with some people voicing their support for the school itself at the meeting. Indeed, Moreno, one of the plan’s most vocal critics, said after the meeting that she’d voted for the school project and supports it, and that she didn’t object to the school using Button Road for traffic.

“It’s not the problem of using it,” she said. “It seems the decision has been taken without thinking of the safety of the neighborhood.”

Some of the people LeClair said reviewed the plan were the fire chief, police chief, city planner, city engineer, the mayor and the school resource officer.

Speaking after the meeting, LeClair said the feedback from the meeting would be brought back to the city.

“People are obviously very passionate about their children,” she said.

LeClair also said that organizers had sought an evening date for the meeting, but Treehouse had not been able to accommodate them.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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