The area where parents dropped off their children at O’Rourke Middle School used to be something of a free-for-all.
One mother once waited for five minutes at a traffic light a half-mile from the school because the cars were so backed up. Other parents would get frustrated with the traffic backlog in front of the school and pull into parking spaces, where students darted between stopped cars to get to the entrance.
“We’ve had a lot of close calls, especially when the weather gets bad,” said Colleen Wolff, who has been principal at the middle school in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District for just over two years. “There was nothing really to indicate where the traffic should go.”
This spring, after the backlogs reached a new peak with up to 200 cars dropping off children and traffic at a standstill in both directions on Lake Hill Road, district officials decided to take action.
They changed the parking lot configuration from one travel lane to two, designating the left lane for through traffic and the right lane for stopping and dropping off children at a specific entrance on the building’s east side.
Buses congregate on the west side of the building in a separate bus loop.
So far, the changes have eased traffic congestion and made entering school safer for pedestrians, officials said.
“We’ve already had comments from several parents saying it’s a night and day difference,” said district spokeswoman Christy Multer.
O’Rourke enrolls just under 800 students, all of whom have bus transportation available to them. But for various reasons, including work schedules and students needing to bring sports equipment to school, some parents choose to drop off their children by car.
“I think that the parents have been really, really patient,” Wolff said.
Parking lot safety is an issue at many schools in the morning and at dismissal, with buses and parent’s cars coming and going and teachers driving in and out.
“I think if you went to any campus, you have a lot of the same issues,” Wolff said.
The district would like to fix other traffic safety issues at O’Rourke and at Stevens Elementary School.
The O’Rourke bus loop, though not as unsafe as the parent drop-off point on the other side of the building, is too small for the 36 buses that crowd into it twice a day and stack up onto Lake Hill Road, said Rich Hewlett, district transportation supervisor.
Architects and engineers are currently coming up with options to present to district officials, he said.
“Any time we can increase student safety, we’re all for that.”
Multer said one proposed fix may include another small road from the school onto High Mills Road.
Stevens Elementary School on Lake Hill Road also has traffic issues because of the 1930s school’s small parking lot. Buses, parents and teachers use the same driveway and entrance, so people regularly walk in front of parked buses sitting at the school, Hewlett said.
“We want to try to improve the parking so that parents can drop off and buses can get in and out,” he said.
Also, during events where parents are invited to the school, they usually have to park on the shoulder of Lake Hill Road, Multer said.
If officials decide on a traffic improvement plan, it could be included in an October capital project proposition before voters, she said.
In April 2009, voters struck down a $3.9 million safety and parking proposition for the middle school and Stevens Elementary that would have addressed the traffic issues. Officials believe the timing of the vote, after the nation’s 2008 economic collapse, contributed to the defeat.