The Ottumwa Courier

June 12, 2013

Easing a school's congestion

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Despite objections by neighbors, parents at Evans Middle School will get their easier student pickup and drop-off plan.

The Ottumwa Zoning Board of Adjustment allowed debate on changes to a permit the school uses for moving buses and parents around EMS. Right now, buses park nose-to-tail along Chester Avenue. The tight formation isn't to save room; it acts as a wall that keeps children from running out into traffic on Chester, said John Donner, district business manager.

Donner said the plan is designed "to get traffic away from the building in the most efficient way possible."

Parents, Donner told the board, want to be able to come in from Finley or Chester avenues, after which they will exit the property via Hamilton Street. That street dead ends with a barrier at the school's parking lot. Donner said a police officer who has worked at the school for 10 years told the district that when Hamilton Street was temporarily opened during some street construction on other roads, traffic moved better than he'd ever seen it. The request: open up Hamilton Street. The buses would do the same thing they're doing now.

Neighbors on Hamilton told the board they are not happy with the proposal. A group of neighbors told the board that the barrier closing off that end of Hamilton has been in place for 50 years. One man told the board that part of the reason he bought that particular home was because it was a dead-end street. Another neighbor had safety concerns for children walking during heavy traffic times.

Board chair Sarah Wenke said she'd heard that Hamilton itself may not be in great condition. However, she had also learned there were no plans for improvements. Yet concerns on condition and concerns from neighbors were not enough to stop the process from moving forward. The board approved the "conditional use permit amendment" Wednesday.

Neighbors did have one victory, however, which Donner and Superintendent Davis Eidahl appeared to support: The language of the amendment will include certain rules.

The plan is in place to reduce congestion before and after school, so that's when Hamilton Street may be used. It will only be an exit from the school parking lot. It will only be open one hour before school and one hour after school. The use of Hamilton Street will be restricted to during the school year. It will not be used on weekends or during sporting events.

The school will install a lockable gate in place of a barrier.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.