By Tessa Raebeck
Some 20 concerned parents and traffic calming proponents joined village officials and Police Chief Tom Fabiano in a traffic safety workshop hosted by the Sag Harbor Board of Education Tuesday night.
The school board asked village officials and community members to join it in a discussion “to collaboratively address traffic safety and congestion in and around the school parking lots and campus,” according to a release sent by district clerk Mary Adamczyk.
But once the meeting began, school officials said the discussion would focus solely on how to best alleviate the safety concerns surrounding pick-up and drop-off at Pierson Middle/High School, which parents and board members alike said was dangerous.
Officials from the school and the village, as well as several community members who attended, proposed many ideas, both as quick fixes and long-term solutions, but not one measure was implemented or even agreed on by the end of the two-hour meeting.
Calling the situation “a bit of a mess,” Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols said the problem occurs between about 7:12 and 7:28 a.m. and again at the end of the day, from roughly 2:25 to 2:40 p.m.
Mr. Nichols proposed a few ways he thinks the village could aid the school district in addressing the problem. The first would be to make Division Street a one-way northbound street for 15 or 20 minutes in the morning and again for 15 or 20 minutes in the afternoon to reduce the flow of traffic. The second would be for the village to provide “some sort of crossing guard” to help direct traffic during those times.
“My understanding is that’s problematic for budget reasons,” Mr. Nichols said. “So, I don’t want to put anybody on the spot with regard to that. I do think that when you go to most schools, there is a crossing guard at the facility.”
There is a village-appointed crossing guard at the Sag Harbor Elementary School during pick-up and drop-off times.
“When we work with the village and we work with the community,” said Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent, “there’s a synergy and there are more powerful possibilities. We very much want to hear from the village. Have you heard of some of these issues?”
“Since our last meeting we had a few weeks ago,” replied Chief Tom Fabiano, “I believe we discussed the possibility of making Division Street one-way. I thought I was pretty clear about the fact that I didn’t see that as an option.”
The village has an unofficial ban on creating any more one-way streets, Trustee Ed Deyermond said, adding that recent attempts, such as on Elizabeth Street and Clinton Street, are “not working.”
“What you’re asking for is for the village to cede liability to the school for that street,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
The crossing guard option seemed more feasible.
School board member Sandi Kruel said as a school district, the fact there is not a school crossing guard on the property when kids are in school “to me is unacceptable.”
“If we can figure out in our budget to rearrange, then I think that’s the least you guys could do to look at your budget,” she said to Chief Fabiano.
Chief Fabiano said he has been discussing the possibility with elementary school crossing guard Kathy Carlozzi of having her aiding Pierson occasionally. Ms. Carlozzi also attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“You can’t just put one person out there,” Chief Fabiano said, “you can’t put Kathy out there. You need a couple people out there to monitor this.”
The chief said he has asked “time and time again” for the school district to have extra personnel to monitor drop-off and pick-up, “but does it happen? No.”
School security guard John Ali is currently the only person officially manning drop-off and pick-up, although Mr. Nichols said he steps in during warmer weather and Chief Fabiano said he helps out when he can.
“Would a crossing guard help there? Possibly. I would have to discuss it with the board next September,” Chief Fabiano said.
Mr. Deyermond said crossing guards “in this particular fiscal budget year are problematic. I don’t see us adding any crossing guards.”
The village officials in attendance agreed that while there are things the village could do, the school should also enact measures to alleviate the congestion.
“I’ve been saying this for the past 14 years that I’ve been chief. Why can’t we have a drop-off for cars on one side and the buses on the other side?” Chief Fabiano asked, referring to the parking lots at Jermain Avenue and Division Street.
“We also brought up the idea of the buses and here’s where the parents have to step in,” he added. “We’re looking at buses and they’re 75 percent empty, according to your numbers. To me, that’s a big issue. We’re spending a lot of money on buses and no one’s riding them. everyone’s dropping kids off at school.”
“This is a generic problem in a lot of schools,” Trustee Robby Stein said of the congestion, adding, “You have to get more kids on the school buses.”
On Wednesday, school business administrator John O’Keefe said, “Bus utilization varies depending on the time of year, weather, etc., but typically runs 30 to 45 percent for the five primary routes.”
Mr. Deyermond said if the entrances at the Montauk Avenue parking lot behind the school and the Jermain Avenue parking lot on its northern side were open longer for students to use and the school publicized that those entrances should be used, some of the traffic could be redirected from Division Street. Several members of the audience nodded in agreement.
“I would like to see what the school is going to do and what Larry [Salvesen, district architect] can do with the possibility of shifting all this congestion from one spot,” Chief Fabiano said. “To say, hey we designed the school and we don’t have place for drop-off…I don’t think it’s too fair to the village to say, ‘You just make it a one-way.’ That’s not the answer.”
“It is our responsibility, yes, but it’s also the responsibility of the school to start doing something,” he said.
“With a little bit of luck, we can get that crossing guard out there relatively soon, I think,” said Dr. Bonuso. “And when I say soon, I don’t mean next week or necessarily next month.”
The school board agreed to discuss the issue further to see whether there were immediate steps that could be taken. It will discuss the plans for the new parking lots at Pierson at its next regular meeting on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pierson library.