Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 03 June 2011 00:00
First it was the reconfiguration that dominated the school board meetings at Willis Avenue School. For the last few months, the lease of a closed building has been at the forefront of the consciousness of district parents, residents and the board of education.
That’s all over now.
The Mineola School District unanimously approved the five-year lease of the Cross Street School to the Solmon Shechter Day School (SSDS) of Glen Cove at its last workshop meeting. With a standing room only crowd of Mineola and Williston Park residents, Mineola natives rejoiced in its lease, while Williston Park-“ers” sat in disapproval.
The leasing of the school solidifies a reconfiguration plan, which included closing the Willis Avenue School, renting the Cross Street property out and moving the children to the other schools in the district.
District superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler said the district might call upon VHB in September to reevaluate the traffic patterns and address any possible modifications.
Numerous Williston Park residents have flooded past board meetings questioning the lease, the use of the fields and the amount of money the district is receiving in rental compensation. After Williston Park residents complained and the Williston Park village board raised concerns, a traffic study was commissioned to study the ramifications of having Solomon Schechter occupy the building.
Residents were pleading for a “dry-run” on the recommendations made by the traffic experts, stating that to not test the layout would be disastrous. There in lies Nagler’s question.
“How do you replicate a dry run when you don’t know where the children are going?” Nagler said. “Where are the buses supposed to go? So if we put 26 buses, what are we supposed to say? Two of you turn left, two of you turn right, one of you go north, one of you go south; that is not replicating what will happen during school. That is why we hired an expert.”
Williston Park resident Richie Ryan, a former traffic expert to the Town of North Hempstead, doesn’t feel that way.
“Any traffic study that was done without the dry run is a sham,” Ryan said prior to the lease approval. “That has to be done. I urge the board to put off any vote so a dry run can be done.”
Harold Lutz, Director of Transportation for VHB engineering, analyzed the results of the study on May 18, comparing the amount of vehicles currently at Cross Street to those projected at Solomon Schechter if it were to occupy the building and found it would generate virtually the same number of vehicles, pointing out that only the vehicle mix will change and that will change somewhat significantly, having busses in the area instead of cars.
Lutz made the comparison that there are between 45 and 50 vehicles at the site today as opposed to about 37 vehicles projected to be at Solomon Schechter: eight to 10 smaller buses in front of the school, one full size bus and 27 “mini buses” in the lot off Meagher Place, which Lutz referred to as a “staging area.”
“They park just like cars,” Rabbi Lev Herrnson, the head of the school, said of the mini buses.
Drawings of the bus arrangement show the smaller buses circling the lot around the parked cars and another group lined up in front of the building on Cross Street. Herrnson will be stepping down as the head of the school in September.
Due to the proximity of St. Aidan’s Church, a 20 minute offset would be in effect between the two schools’ start and dismissal times, which would be in force throughout the term of the lease.
“We’d like to try to keep that traffic as separate as possible so that you don’t overwhelm the community with traffic,” Lutz said. “There’s that 15 minutes where it’s just a hornet’s nest of activity and then it’s quiet again until the end of the day.”
Solomon Schechter would begin the day at 7:40 a.m., 20 minutes earlier than their current start of 8 a.m. The intended end time Monday through Thursday would be 3:26 p.m. rather than 3:46 p.m. Herrnson said that the school hasn’t decided on Friday dismissal times. Leading up to Easter and Passover the school dismisses at 1:46 p.m., which does not pose a conflict, according to Herrnson.
“While this change represents a hardship for us... we’re making this modification because we understand that this is important to ensure people’s safety,” Herrnson said. “We want to allay any concerns about traffic... and we want to demonstrate that we want to be really good neighbors.”
While the rabbi said the school was “pleased” to adopt the recommendations, he appeared to balk at the idea of moving start time to 7:30 a.m., saying they have already made “significant concessions” at “the hardship of our own community.”
As part of the recommendations in the report, SSDS would have a dismissal in two waves, five to 10 minutes apart. Lutz pointed out that he was more apt to making an easier operational change rather than a permanent change in infrastructure such as altering road signs, curbs, etc. Bus drivers would also be encouraged to adhere to two patterns of traffic at arrival and dismissal times.
According to Herrnson, the two-part dismissal is consistent with current practice in Glen Cove where all buses currently stage at one time and are released in two separate waves.
In terms of student driving, the report recommended that a separate dedicated lot should be secured, but since no such lot has been located at this time, Herrnson said that all students would be taking the bus in the 2011-2012 school year and not allowed to drive.
“Until we have an answer to this, we do not want to in any way give you any pause or concern,” he said, explaining that enforcement would be through the school security guards who would note if a student arrived via bus or walked up either being dropped off “or parked their car where they’re not supposed to.”