The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with construction of roundabouts for the entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School and to send a time line for construction to the Board of Education.
The vote was in response to action taken by the Board of Education at its meeting on April 15.
The Board of Education had granted to the county rights of way and easements for construction of the roundabouts but only on the condition that the Commission act first to officially approve the project and that it guarantee that the work would be completed by the beginning of the school year.
The time line lists a “tentative completion date” of Aug. 1, or ahead of the Aug. 7 beginning of classes, but Board Chair John Daniell said it is not possible to really “assure” completion of a construction project of this type.
The Tuesday night action technically only applied to the bus entrance to the middle school, as the county does not yet have final details on the roundabout for the parent entrance. Daniell said he expected that work to move even more quickly.
In other action, the Board gave tentative approval to a $225,000 memorandum of understanding with W&A Engineering for design work for an extension of Bishop Farms Parkway from its current terminus at the University of North Georgia to New High Shoals Road.
School Board Action
The Board of Education has raised objections to the request of the county for rights of way and easements for construction of roundabouts at the two Malcom Bridge Middle School entrances.
|Daniell And Commissioner Mark Thomas|
At its April 15 meeting, the Board of Education approved the recommendation by Superintendent Jason Branch that the Board grant the county’s request for the rights of ways and easements, but the Board added two conditions.
The Board wanted the county to officially approve the project before it transferred the rights of way and granted the easements.
It also wanted an “assurance” that work on the roundabouts would be completed before school begins in August.
Board Member Tim Burgess also has emphasized that the initiative for the project rests with the county and not the school system and asked the Board of Commissioners to communicate with the community about the project.
Oconee County Public Works Director Jody Woodall asked the Board at the meeting Tuesday night to accept the rights of way and easements from the Board of Education and authorize the county to put the project out for bid.
In fact, he told the Board, the county had advertised for bids earlier in the day, so the Board’s action was merely a formal response for the Board of Education.
Woodall provided a schedule listing the issuance of the bids on April 30, a bid submittal deadline of May 15, a tentative award date of May 21, a notice to proceed with construction date of May 22, and an estimated completion date of Aug. 1.
Woodall said he expects the documents to be before the Board of Education for its meeting on Monday.
Daniell told the Board of Commissioners that all of the bid documents will include the Aug. 1 date for completion of the project.
Explanation Of Discussion
Daniell told the Board of Commissioners that county staff members have been in discussion with School System staff since September of last year.
On Oct. 2 of 2018, the Board of Commissioners approved a modification of rezone for a shopping center between Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road that included the requirement that the developer install a “traffic circle/roundabout or equivalent” at two locations.
One of those locations was the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School, and the other was at the Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road intersection.
Daniell said at the meeting on Tuesday that the county has abandoned plans for the roundabout at the Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road intersection because it would negatively impact the driveways of homeowners at that intersection.
He said developer Lenru Properties LLC nearly has completed design work for the intersection with the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School and that the county would be reviewing the plans shortly.
The developer has responsibility for building that roundabout, and Daniell said work on it will progress more quickly than will construction of the roundabout at the bus entrance because the private developer does not have the requirement of advertising for bids.
The county is building the entrance at the bus entrance and another roundabout at Malcom Bridge Road and Mars Hill Road.
All three roundabouts will be the same size, Daniell said Tuesday night.
“As far as assurances, I am not sure how you assure a construction project,” Daniell said Tuesday night. “We did come up with a schedule that will be submitted back to the Board of Education.”
“I don’t know what may happen,” Commissioner Chuck Horton said. “You could have all kinds of things happen.”
“All we have is the schedule,” Daniell said. “I’m not sure how to guarantee anything either. We’ve got the schedule. We feel like it’s a doable situation.”
“All we can do is give the schedule,” Daniell said. “We’ll see how they respond to that.”
The school also had expressed concern about the impact of the roundabout on the sign at the middle school. Daniell said the roundabout design had been changed and the sign will not be moved.
The major problem at the school is that it is difficult to make a left-hand turn out of the school, Daniell said, necessitating installation of a traffic officer into the intersection.
There also is backup going into the school, Daniell said, and the county has asked the school system to look at their “internal storage” of cars to help address that.
“I think the roundabouts will definitely improve the flow for buses as well as parents,” Daniell said.
“We did have an engineer actually go out and do traffic counts and studies, and their feeling is that these will be productive roundabouts.”
“The other thing to keep in mind is that the situation that exists now will not work in the future,” Daniell said.
In 2004, an earlier Commission rezoned the property between Malcom Bridge Road and Lenru Road for a shopping center, Daniell said, and “traffic counts are going to increase.”
Daniell said the roundabouts will decrease traffic speed.
“In addition, we are going to be working with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission to develop a safe route to school plan for that area,” Daniell said.
“So we’re also hoping in the future we’ll increase pedestrian traffic–hoping kids can walk to school instead of getting driven.
“Lots of people coming from that subdivision could walk the kids to school and then cut through there and get an ice cream (at the new shopping center) on the way home,” Daniell said. “It’s good for everybody.”
Daniell said the county will “do a very aggressive PR campaign on this.”
Daniell said the county is willing to show up at open house sessions when school gets ready to start to discuss the roundabouts.
County Communications Manager Diane Baggett also will work with people in the school system “to get things out to the parents” at the schools, Daniell said.
Bishop Farms Parkway
County Administrator Justin Kirouac told the Board that $200,000 of the $225,000 committed to W&A Engineering for design work for an extension of Bishop Farm Parkway would be covered by money from the University of North Georgia.
|Soutar Before Board|
W&A Engineering, formerly Williams and Associates, 2470 Daniells Bridge Road, already had been working with the University of North Georgia on the design of the roadway, Kirouac said.
Two citizens raised concerns about the road extension, which will cross wetlands around the headwaters of Calls Creek.
Cindy Mitchell-McGarvey, 1170 Grace Lane, outside Watkinsville, representing the Friends of Calls Creek, said her group is “concerned that the planned Bishop Farms Parkway will adversely affect Calls Creek and the wetlands area and subsequently the quality of the waters of Calls Creek.”
Vicki Soutar, chair of Oconee Waters, a committee of Upper Oconee Watershed Network, said she realized “we are early in the design process” and “the need for more than one entrance and exit to UNG.”
“So what I would like to say is that I’m encouraging you to ask many questions, to think of the best routes that are the least impact,” she said. “And also to consider going beyond the basic minimum requirements to protect these wetlands.”
The Board put the memorandum of understanding on the consent agent for approval at the meeting on Tuesday.
I arrived at the meeting on Tuesday late due to another commitment but was in time to hear much of the discussion of the Malcom Bridge Road roundabouts.
Penny Mills was at the meeting throughout and recorded the video below.
Discussion of the Bishop Farms Parkway extension begins at 4:25 in the video.
Discussion of the Malcom Bridge Road project begins at 11:55 in the video.