Lindbergh board gives green light to traffic plan for Long Elementary

Doercrest Drive citizen presents petition signed by more than 150 opposing plan

By Mike Anthony

Lindbergh Schools’ traffic plan for Long Elementary School was modified in an effort to “find a win-win solution with our neighbors,” according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Feb. 12 to approve a construction plan for Long Elementary School that Simpson says will solve traffic-congestion problems that have existed for decades at the school on Sappington Road.

Executive Director of Planning and Development Karl Guyer told the board last week, “… We’re bringing you the best plan for this campus.”

Lindbergh Schools paid $850,000 to buy 4.684 acres adjacent to Long Elementary School, 9021 Sappington Road. Construction plans call for an expanded parking area for staff, green space for physical education fields, a nature trail and stormwater control, among other improvements.

In addition, the plan calls for the existing Long entrance to remain in place as an entrance-only driveway onto the site and will be dedicated to car traffic. All cars will exit the campus onto Sappington Road through a new exit driveway.

The current exit from the parking lot will be closed and a new three-lane driveway will be created roughly across from Banyon Tree Court. Two lanes will be used for exiting the campus and one lane will be an entrance. At drop-off and dismissal times on school days, this entrance will be for buses only.

Buses will exit through Doercrest Drive, which will be gated except when used by five buses twice a day.

Total cost of the improvements is estimated at $450,000.

Doercrest Manor residents have voiced concerns about Lindbergh’s traffic plan for Long, contending the district’s plan would create a safety hazard for their neighborhood, students and motorists. District officials, however, say the plan will improve safety by separating car and bus traffic, which Simpson told the Call is “the gold standard” for elementary school campuses.

Lindbergh officials met twice with nearby residents and based on residents’ comments, modified the plan.

During a period for public comment at last week’s school board meeting, five residents spoke in favor of the plans for Long Elementary School and four people spoke in opposition to the proposal.

Another speaker, Clifford Underwood, suggested installing a flashing yellow light at a crest on Eddie & Park Road, which district officials said they would investigate.

David Dooling, co-president of the Long Elementary School PTO, told board members a survey was sent to Long parents. Of 159 responses, “over 95 percent were in favor of this plan,” he said.

Frank Ruzicka, who spoke in opposition to the plan, presented a petition signed by more than 150 residents that stated, in part, those signing it support the proposed expansion of Long, but “stand firmly opposed to the use of Doercrest Manor as an access to Long School.”

“… I come here tonight not as a homeowner on Doercrest Drive or even as a member of the Doercrest Manor subdivision. I come here representing over a hundred-and-fifty voter-age residents of the Lindbergh School District,” Ruzicka said, citing the petition.

He later said, “What I am here to address tonight is not our personal concerns with what happens in our backyards or even in our front yards. What I am voicing is our collective concern with the safety and well-being of Long Elementary students as they travel on Doercrest Drive or even worse, as they enter the intersection of Doercrest and Eddie & Park. We are concerned for the safety of our children who walk and ride through the neighborhood, as well as non-Doercrest Manor residents who walk and ride through our neighborhood to access Crestwood Park.

“Most of all, we are concerned for the safety and well-being of all motorists who travel on Eddie & Park, especially at the intersection of Doercrest in light of the school district’s plan to route bus traffic through the subdivision …”

Long parent Julie Wright said she supported the district’s plans for Long Elementary.

“… The district has done an outstanding job in the additions added to Long, as well as the other schools in the district, but the one area that hasn’t kept up with the growth is the parking lot,” she said. “Over the past six years, the parking lot, as well as the traffic increase on Sappington Road, has become an issue. I wholeheartedly believe that with the new bus loop and … a staff parking area, this type of backup on Sappington will be alleviated.”

Wright said she could sympathize with nearby residents.

“… The Abeln family could have easily sold the property to a developer for a lot more money than the school district is willing to part with. A parcel that size could surely have been developed into at least 10 to 15 new homes, and each of those homes would then bring with them traffic — more traffic to your subdivision, especially since the only way in and out of that subdivision is through Eddie & Park Road …,” she said.

During a presentation of the plans to the board, Guyer said, “… What is being presented is a modified plan, taking into account suggestions of Doercrest Drive homeowners. The connection at Doercrest is being limited to an exit only for a.m. and p.m. buses. It is a one-way road, exit only, with no entrance. The connection to Doercrest Drive is controlled by a gate to prohibit this from being used as a through road between Sappington and Eddie & Park …”

Todd Powers, of Itner Architects, said, “… The No. 1 issue that we always look to address and accomplish on a school site, whether it be an existing or a new, is separation of buses and cars — as far as we can get them from each other …”

In response to a question from board member Kate Holloway, Guyer said, “Whenever you start a design project, you always consider a wide variety of factors. This, the mission for you, was to bring you the best possible plan, and this is the gold standard for this school for all of the reasons that were cited … We’re bringing you the best plan for this campus.”

Responding to a question from board President Vic Lenz about the potential for accidents on Eddie & Park Road, Chief Financial Officer Charles Triplett said he wrote a letter to the Sunset Hills Police Department requesting a report of all accidents in the 11600 block of Eddie & Park since Jan. 1, 2008.

“They reported back that there were none at Doercrest and Eddie & Park,” he said. “There were two a couple blocks to the west at Park Haven and Eddie & Park and one at Sappington and Eddie & Park in the last five years.”

Of board members, Simpson told the Call, “… They very much listened to the residents of Doercrest. The plan was modified on several fronts, directly because of the concerns of the Doercrest residents — trying to find and working to find a win-win solution with our neighbors.

“We have a tradition of being good neighbors and we take that seriously, but yet the board had to, somewhat reluctantly I think — reluctantly in terms of they didn’t want the Doercrest residents to go away feeling like they didn’t get their way or their concerns weren’t heard — but they had to come down on the side of what is good for the safety of those students, not just tomorrow, but for decades to come …”