By Tessa Raebeck
Last Friday afternoon at the end of the school day, Dr. Carl Bonuso was on Division Street waiting to make a left turn into the Pierson Middle/High School parking lot, with his left signal blinking. A Mini Cooper came behind him, swerved to the left and illegally passed Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District.
Several Pierson parents have expressed concern over such incidents during pick up and drop off at the school’s southern entrance, saying poor design, lack of supervising personnel and drivers’ rush to get kids to school combine for a haphazard and potentially dangerous scenario.
“I’m a parent, not an expert,” said Robbie Vorhaus, who has had two children attend Pierson — one is now in college and the other is still a student at the school. “But I’m still very much aware of the fact that there is a very flagrant potential safety hazard that’s been going on for a long time. And it would seem as though the police department would want to work with the school to prevent something horrible from happening.”
During the morning drop off, parents circle around the Division Street parking lot loop, dropping kids off at a curb by the entrance. Principal Jeff Nichols and other administrators are often present to move traffic along the curb.
John Ali, a Pierson security officer, monitors the buses and is positioned at the Marsden Street intersection in the afternoon. The buses park south of the intersection on Division Street and exit down Marsden Street. Cars line up down Marsden Street, despite a No Standing sign, and up and down Division Street.
During the morning, drivers pull around the loop to drop their kids off; cars approach the parking lot entrance from all directions. The four-way traffic created by the intersection is about 20 feet from the three-way traffic created by the lot entrance.
“There are different problems in the morning than in the afternoon,” Vorhaus said.
In the afternoon, students must find the car picking them up. If it hasn’t yet pulled into the loop, kids often go down the road in search of it.
On Friday afternoon, in addition to directing the intersection, there were students to be monitored. On the loop, a student on a razor scooter had to be directed to stay out of the road. A girl in a red jacket ran across the street, dropping a cup in the middle of the road and stooping to pick it up. During both pick up and drop off, which lasts about 20 minutes each, several cars ran the three stop signs at the Marsden Street intersection.
“It was absolute mayhem there today,” Vorhaus said Tuesday, speaking of the afternoon pick up, which came early due to inclement weather. “With the snow and the early pick up, there were more people and there was nobody there [aside from Ali]. There was no other public safety officer anywhere to be seen.”
Dr. Bonuso said Monday the school is hoping to implement several practical safety changes when the parking lots are renovated as part of the district bond capital projects.
“We’ve also in our school and community meetings talked about the details regarding the design for the parking lot,” he said Tuesday. “One of the things we’re tossing around is whether or not we could expand that curb length, so that people could pull up much further and [thus] not have as much of a line of people spilling out into the street.”
“And of course,” he added, “we also welcome working with and partnering with the village.”
“The answer is,” Vorhaus said Tuesday, “that the police department — as in any other community — works in cooperation with the school and puts either a patrol officer or a safety officer, certainly, at the corner of Division and Jermain.”
Although that intersection is priority, Vorhaus would also like to see a second officer at the northern intersection of Division Street and Marsden Street, especially during pick up.
Dr. Bonuso said he would welcome it if the village’s traffic experts spoke with the district’s architecture firm, BBS Architecture, “to get a sense of traffic flow and what the best design is both from the school’s perspective and the village’s perspective. We absolutely welcome having both the village and school share as much information and expertise as is available.”
“Honestly, I think that’s a school issue,” Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride said Tuesday, adding that he sometimes accompanies his son to drop off his grandson.
Mayor Gilbride said there is a Traffic Control Officer (TCO) at the Sag Harbor Elementary School’s Route 114 entrance “who does an excellent job.”
Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano said Tuesday he could not comment because he is unaware of the problem, but anyone with concerns should come to him to discuss a possible solution.