By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Traffic congestion before and after school at Evans could soon be unblocked.
The City Council discussed five recommendations from the Ottumwa Public Safety Advisory Board at its meeting Tuesday night, one concerning traffic jams outside the middle school and a possible solution.
Public Works Director Larry Seals said Ottumwa Schools Superintendent Davis Eidahl requested removing the Hamilton Street barricade to allow for access to and from the Evans Middle School parking lot during drop-off times before and pick-up times after school.
The request was approved by the advisory board, but the school district still has to submit a school route plan to the city engineering department to install a heavy-duty gate system that will only be open approximately an hour and a half before school starts and for the same duration when school lets out.
"This will not be used for bus traffic, only passenger vehicles," Seals said. "And the school will also be responsible for opening and closing the gate."
Right now, parents drop off and pick up their children by winding from Finley Avenue north through the parking lot and out onto Chester Avenue. Schools Director of Operations Danny Renfrew said during reconstruction of the school around four years ago, Hamilton Street (which connects to the southwest corner of the school parking lot) was opened for more access.
"Our push all along was to have the street open to funnel traffic through there," Renfrew said. "I can't say that it's a terrible congestion problem, but I think traffic flows quicker and more efficiently going out the Hamilton Street exit if it's available.
"It's controlled chaos. We do fairly well with what we have, but anything that could help it be better, why not look at it?"
Mayor Frank Flanders said he, City Administrator Joe Helfenberger and Councilman J.R. Richards have "had a number of discussions" with Eidahl stemming from a committee of parents of middle school students to address the situation.
"We feel the request they've made is very reasonable for the safety of the children," Flanders said.
But Councilman Brian Morgan had concerns about safety.
"There is a good number of kids who walk out of the parking lot that way and go down that road [Hamilton Street]," Morgan said. "There are no sidewalks there. It's a narrow road. So the safety of the students ... I'm not totally sold on that, because they have to walk on the street or up on the grass."
Flanders noted that the gate would only be open for a brief time and would be shut at all other times as well as throughout the entire summer.
Morgan also had concerns with the life of the street itself.
"The street's not in good shape right now," he said. "How much longer could we hold off on that street right now? It's not the only street in town that's bad, but we've made a commitment to go forward and fix as many streets as possible."
Seals said it's difficult to put an exact number of years of life to the street, but "it's definitely short in life."
Councilman Mitch Niner said the "happy medium" for everyone involved should be opening up the street "for just a few minutes every day versus opening it full time."
The council approved the recommendation 4-1, with Morgan as the dissenting vote.