Proposed School Access Road Raises Concerns

HAMPSTEAD – Concerns over process, procedure and design of a proposed access road between Hampstead Middle School and Emerson Avenue were aired before the School Board, but no one disagreed that there is a need for some type of second access to the school.
More than one person pointed out that the need for a second access road dates back to the construction of the school, but such a road was never built.

The present road proposal carries a price tag of approximately $267,000. The proposal began as a single lane gravel and gated emergency access road, but is now a two lane paved, through road, expected to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Residents flocked to the Tuesday, Sept. 24 School Board meeting, expressing concerns ranging from cost to safety to the need for the decision on such a project to go to the voters.
One resident presented a petition to place the matter as a warrant article; others asked that other options to the proposed road be considered.
At the board meeting, the main concerns expressed were:
• The initial request was for a single lane gravel, gated emergency access road between the school and Emerson Avenue. That has grown to be a much larger project, calling for a two lane paved road 24 feet wide that would be open to through traffic around the clock and every day.
• The intersection and sight lines of the access road with Emerson Avenue concerned several, who termed it a safety hazard, along with the proposed 9 percent slope.
• The proposed two lane road would be open to all traffic all the time and people would likely use it to bypass the center of town and thus create more traffic past the school and its fields, resulting in a safety hazard.
• Only one option for the route of the road is being considered, with no thought to a different design or to using the road from the school to St. Anne’s Church that has been roughed in already.
• How to pay for the road and its cost are too big of an issue for the five-person School Board to decide when the taxpayers will have to shoulder the financial burden, some said, asking that the matter be placed on the March ballot as a warrant article instead.
• Speakers said the present design does not address drainage and run-off concerns for abutters’ property or the intrusion onto wetlands.
• Concern was expressed that the road design and plan should go before the Planning Board and the Technical Review Committee, which has not been done.
• Finally, the concern was expressed that the proposed road is the most expensive solution.
Deputy Fire Chief Will Warnock said the need for the emergency access was brought up by fire and police after they had identified a vulnerability and considered the school at risk, as it has only a single route in and out. He said an incident on School Street or Main Street could shut down the school, and would be made worse by parents trying to get to their children.
“A second way in to the school would reduce the vulnerability and provide a second way to exit from the school,” he said. “We don’t know the best way to solve this.”
Initially fire and police had asked that a single lane gravel, gated emergency access be considered. He said the fire department is only concerned with having a second access, and if the gravel road were adequate for the department’s equipment, it would be all right. He said a paved roadway would likely be better.
Police Chief Joe Beaudoin agreed with Warnock and reiterated that the road was initially presented as a gated dirt road for emergency purposes. He said a gravel road to Emerson Avenue would be more than sufficient.
Road Agent Jon Worthen said a gravel road would be more costly to maintain but less expensive to build. He said he thought it would cost around $2,000 annually to maintain a gravel roadway, and noted the road leading to St. Anne’s parking lot would not currently support fire equipment.
Paul Carideo from the Conservation Commission expressed concerns about wetlands and the lack of measures to address storm water run-off and storage. He also provided the board with an alternative design that allows for storm water treatment and storage, reduces the 9 percent slope, and avoids the wetlands and school playing fields.
Planning Board Chairman Randy Clark said the initial proposal was brought to the Planning Board when it was in its preliminary stage but nothing has been brought since then. He said the plan should be reviewed by the Planning Board and the Technical Review Committee.
Priscilla Lindquist said when the school was being built, she offered the opportunity to cross her abutting land to put in an access road, but the district was not interested. She is concerned about how additional water off the road will impact abutters.
Robert Nugent expressed concern about sight lines at the Emerson Avenue intersection and agreed with Carideo’s concerns about wetlands. He questioned the dangers associated with use of a road to the school that would be a through street, open to the public all the time.
Tom Lindquist reiterated his concerns about how the plans had expanded, saying the board is considering a Cadillac solution when a Hyundai would work. He questioned why no alternative plans were being considered and noted the drainage and run-off issues as well as the 9 percent grade. He also questioned why the plan appears to be being rushed through, and asked that the voters make the decision, not the school board.
Lindquist presented a petition with 137 signatures seeking to have the proposed road put before the voters as a warrant article.
Frank Damiano said what scares him the most is the traffic the road would add to School Street. He prefers a single lane roadway, gated at both ends.
Kim Lindquist said she had many concerns, ranging from how the plan escalated, growing from a need to a desire; the lack of options being considered; the cost; the 9 percent slope; the road’s negative impact on the cross country trail and the lower soccer field, which she said is used by girls soccer and gym classes; the invitation to non-school traffic, making the school less safe; the lack of a traffic study; the failure to approach abutters for an easement; and drainage and run-off concerns.
She asked the board to consider two motions: to bring the plan to the voters, and to look into using the road already in place from St. Anne’s. She said the Catholic Diocese might be amenable to this but no one would know unless someone asked.
Jeff Hawks expressed concerns with run-off and said that as a taxpayer, he asked the board to look at the proposal responsibly.
A parent said the estimated $267,000 price could grow exponentially because there was no mention of guardrails, street lights and other details that would have to be addressed.
Abutter Johnson Clark said he was concerned about the use of sand and salt on the proposed roadway impacting his wells, and could see more problems for his property as the result of the proposal. He favored a single lane emergency access, not a through road.
Board chairwoman Natalie Gallo said the board had heard a lot of good information and had a lot to digest. Following public comment, the board went on to another agenda item.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.