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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Buses, Modulars Among Town Plan Topics

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School officials believe issues of modular classrooms, buses and athletic lights at Staples High School should be items touched on in the update to the town plan.

The Westport Board of Education met with Planning and Zoning Commission representatives Monday night to discuss school issues that should be included in the update of the Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

Board Chairwoman Mary Parmelee said some schools have short-term space needs, and over the years there has been a negative attitude towards modular classrooms.

“In general, sometimes they can be an ideal solution to a five- to 10-year space problem,” she said. “Our schools are built to last at least 50 years, and sometimes we need more space for a much less amount of time.”

A modular classroom can also be a better financial investment, she said.

Commission members said it was important for them to hear from school officials when they plan on changing zoning regulations.

Buses were another main issue, and Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon said in the future they may need to be parked on public, town property.

Right now the buses are parked along Post Road East near downtown on private property, he said, but the property may become more valuable.

“We may need to look at allowing for us to place them on town property even if it means the school parking lots,” he said.

It’s important for the school buses to be parked in town, Landon said, because it would cost more in fuel for them to be parked elsewhere.

Also, it would be important for them to be available in an emergency, he said, whether it’s a municipal need or if children need to be sent home from school early.

Commission members asked about the ridership on buses.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Nancy Harris said the elementary and middle school buses are scheduled for every student to have a seat, but the high school buses are overbooked because students drive or ride with others.

“We’re almost door to door because we feel it’s unsafe to walk on some streets,” she said. “If we had sidewalks in a mile radius of a school, we would schedule less so kids could walk.”

Helen Martin Block, a commission member, said she doesn’t know if parents would let their children walk to school even if there were sidewalks.

She sees buses that are not filled, she said, and she wondered if there was a way to get parents to put their children on the buses more often.

Landon said the buses for middle and elementary schools are almost always completely filled, but there are circumstances where parents will drive their children.

If there is bad weather, like Monday’s early rain, he said, parents will drive their children to school.

Traffic on North Avenue is so heavy, he said, students are typically 10 to 15 minutes late for classes if a parent drives them on a rainy day.

Landon said he was concerned about the safety on North Avenue and wants better traffic controls, especially at the intersection with Cross Highway.

“We don’t permit kids to ride their bikes to Bedford because of the traffic,” he said.

Landon said the commission should also consider in the town plan a limited use of lights on the Staples football field.

“Even when we’ve had temporary lights in the past, they had a minimal impact on the neighbors,” he said.

Parmelee said the issue of parking lot lights should also be considered.

“It makes a difference of how you feel when you leave a building and it’s lighted,” she said. “It’s not about people lurking but having to navigate the terrain.”

David Press, a commission member, said the commission is considering removing a cap on the number of multi-family homes in Westport.

It could affect a number of agencies, he said, including the schools.

“We may need you to give input because there could be concerns when we change the rules,” he said.

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Posted 08/29/06 at 09:00 AM  Permalink



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