First the good news…
The school board held another meeting Monday evening to solicit public comment on the plan to expand the Crested Butte Community School and it went pretty well. During the 90 minutes I was at the meeting there wasn’t much criticism on 98 percent of the plan. Kudos to the architects and planners. The design elements impacting the students appear spot-on, based on lack of comment by the public Monday evening.
There was, however, a basket of criticism over the traffic plan and shortened ball field. Fair enough. But these two issues shouldn’t slam the gate on the big picture expansion. Traffic is obviously a cluster in the mornings when school starts and in the afternoons when classes are dismissed. Twenty or 30 minutes of pain are felt each school day. The ball field could use an extra 20 or 30 feet to be ideal. Maybe find a way to squeeze another 15 feet in there, and a higher outfield fence could be in order to make the 300 feet play like 330.
Some neighbors of the school indicated at the meeting they were insulted that they were being put in the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) box.
They shouldn’t be insulted. That is how the process works and the process can work well. Ask the neighbors who organized on the other side of town where a rehab center was proposed. The immediate neighbors of any project are going to be the most impacted and they should raise issues that directly affect them and that others wouldn’t think about. It is a totally fair way to participate in the system. These particular neighbors are passionate and organized and bring up valid points. Parents of students living on Whiterock or Maroon or in Mt. Crested Butte or Crested Butte South aren’t the ones bringing up parking and traffic issues, and the school district wouldn’t have addressed the issues if they hadn’t been brought to their attention.
The problem comes in that the problem will never completely go away. Short of spending $20 million on expanding the facility and then mandating home schooling, a K-12 school is going to attract vehicles. The cars aren’t ever going to be eliminated.
So the real question becomes how to deal. The school district has responded to concerns and tried to push and pull and relocate the problem areas. Those adjustments will help.
The town, through the recreation and marshal’s departments, has said it will try to increase education efforts to get more kids to ride the buses. In fact, a major state grant to address “safe routes” for kids to walk and bike to school was awarded this week to the town. That will be a huge help.
Another suggestion is to address the situation on an operational level. Think about slightly staggering the start of school so that the elementary students start classes at say, 8:20 and the middle and high school kids start class at 8:35. This could thin out traffic at any one time and separate high school and elementary student conflicts. The same staggering would take place in the afternoon. There would surely be less of a cluster factor.
And there is a cluster factor. Tuesday, I spent a half hour at the school, watching traffic in the morning. The parking lot is definitely a mess for 10 or 15 minutes. Even worse is the awful intersection at Seventh and Red Lady. Total cluster, but having the crossing guard on hand is helpful. Still, it wasn’t a lot of fun. But surprisingly, Red Lady Avenue beyond the parking lot entrance was like a pedestrian mall. No cars. No kid drop-off on the street because of the snow banks prohibiting easy access to the school. A fence is planned for the future along Red Lady and that should continue to mitigate potential vehicle jams in that area.
The afternoon was more mellow overall but there were a few more cars picking up kids on Red Lady Avenue. However, there wasn’t anything noticeably dramatic. Now, while that can change in the spring, the issues voiced by the public, while valid, appear to be being addressed.
Having two access points into the parking lot would seem to make sense as well.
It’s not a perfect solution but added up, all these measures could take some steam out of the pressure cooker. They will make the situation better than it is right now.
The school district has put in a ton of hours trying to make the expansion plan work for the kids. They’ve done a good job. The Town Council was bold to step up and offer to give the district the land it wanted to make the school expansion work. Nice. The community voted overwhelmingly to make it happen. Big picture: This is good for the community.
Having a K-12 school at this end of the valley is vitally important but it comes at a price. It will never be perfect. But if we wait for perfection, nothing will ever happen.
By the way, how is that IGA coming?