Oconee County will go forward with construction of three roundabouts on Malcom Bridge Road, two at entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School, if the Board of Commissioners next month approves plans put forward at the Commission meeting Tuesday night.
Construction of two of those roundabouts–at Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road and at the bus entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School–could begin this summer.
Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told his fellow commissioners that the county can build the two roundabouts at the school entrances without the rights of way denied the county by the Board of Education at its meeting last week.
Daniell said the county proposed the roundabouts as a way to address traffic problems already existing on Malcom Bridge Road at the Middle School and increased traffic expected from a shopping center approved back in 2004 and now under development on land opposite the school.
Daniell also said a primary concern was the safety of Sheriff ‘s Office deputies who now stand in the middle of the roadway to direct traffic at the school entrances.
School Board Inaction
Daniell began the discussion of the roundabouts early in the short agenda-setting session on Tuesday by telling the commissioners that the Board of Education on May 13 had refused to grant to the county requested rights of way at the parent and bus entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.
Members of the Board of Education did not take any action at that May 13 meeting on the county’s request, and School Superintendent Jason Branch sent County Administrator Justin Kirouac an email message that evening informing him of that inaction.
“The board requested that I notify the county immediately regarding this lack of action,” Branch wrote to Kirouac. “It also asked that I clarify that the BOE does not plan to take action at this time or in the near future to grant the requested right of way.”
At its meeting on April 15, the Board of Education had granted the rights of way and easements to the county for roundabouts at the two entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School, but with conditions.
The Board of Education said the county had to provide “assurance” that the work on the entrances will be completed by the beginning of the school year in August.
The School Board also said the school system would not turn over the rights of way and grant the easements until the county is “at the point where they need it.”
Jake Grant, director of facilities for the school system, brought the requests back before the School Board at the May 13 meeting because, he said, the county had modified the deeds and so that the Board could vote on the two entrances separately.
Daniell told the commissioners that the county can build a roundabout at the bus entrance without using School Board property by shifting the roadway west onto land the county owns at that location.
A second roundabout at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road does not abut school system property.
The county could go forward with construction of these two sites this summer, though it seems unlikely at this point that the work would be completed by the time school starts on Aug. 7, Daniell said.
The owners of the shopping center have agreed to shift the roadway and roundabout at the parent entrance to middle school onto their property, making it possible to build that roundabout as well, Daniell told the commissioners.
That construction, however, cannot be done this summer because it will require a change in the design, Daniell said, and he thinks that work should be put off until next year.
Daniell said he would put onto the agenda for the June 4 Board of Commissioners meeting a decision on how to proceed.
In initiating the discussion of the roundabouts, Daniell presented to the Board of Commissioners a time line of his and county staff interactions with Superintendent Branch, Board of Education Chair Tom Odom, and school system staff going back to September of 2018.
“I think it is important to understand how early the Board of Education was brought in on these discussions,” Daniell said.
The time line shows that sometime in early September of 2018 Daniell told Superintendent Branch that the Board of Commissioners was considering constructing roundabouts at the Malcom Bridge schools “concurrent with pending rezoning at Lenru Road.”
Lenru Development was asking the county to modify a 2004 rezone to allow for a different configuration of the previously approved shopping center between Lenru Road and Malcom Bridge Road near the Middle School.
Lenru Development is a partnership involving Rodney Jones, 1520 Crystal Hills Drive, and Philip Hammond, 1516 Bracken Court, off Fern Hill Road, near the proposed shopping center.
The time line Daniell presented showed initial email contact with Superintendent Branch on Sept. 14 and continued contact through that month.
The time line indicates that Board of Education Chair Odom sent Daniell an email regarding the roundabouts on Sept. 28 and that Daniell met with Odom on Oct. 2 to discuss the county’s plans.
The time line that Daniell presented to the Board was the same one that I had received from County Administrator Kirouac on Tuesday morning.
I had emailed Daniell late on Sunday night, with a copy to Kirouac, asking Daniell if it was possible to have a time line of the interactions between the county and the school system regarding the roundabouts.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on April 30, Daniell had told the commissioners that the county had been working with the school system since September on the project.
In my email to Daniell on Sunday, I also made a request for documents supporting any time line provided.
Kirouac provided me with that documentation on Tuesday along with the time line he had created.
Immediate Negative Response
In the initial email message of Sept. 14, Daniell provided Branch an “illustrative concept overlaying roundabouts at Lenru, the School entrance and the bus entrance (which would not be part of the rezoning).”
Daniell said the roundabouts “would be able to accommodate the bus turns based on the radii” and solicited questions and comments.
Branch wrote back via email to Daniell on Sept. 19 saying he had asked his Operation Division to review the proposal and “We were unable to locate any roundabouts built in front of school campuses in Georgia on either a main roadway or highway.”
Daniell phoned Branch and told him of a roundabout at Walnut Grove High in Walton County, and Branch sent an email on Sept. 28 saying that the high school in Walton County has two additional entrances and exits that cars and buses “can safely traverse.”
Malcom Bridge has only the parent and bus entrances, both of which the county wants to be part of the roundabouts.
Odom Weighs In
On Sept. 28, Board of Education Chair Odom sent Daniell an email message, just 15 minutes after Branch had sent his email message to Daniell.
The board of education is concerned about the concept you provided us showing three roundabouts in a half mile span on Malcom Bridge Road,” Odom wrote. “Specifically, we are concerned about the two roundabouts at the parent entrance and bus entrance.
“MBMS and MBES currently have a combined student population of over 1500 students,” Odom wrote, referring to Malcom Bridge Middle School and Malcom Bridge Elementary School.
“While we are not in charge of roads in Oconee County, we do wonder if the first roundabouts in Oconee County should be located so closely and/or in front of two schools,” Odom wrote.
“Please feel free to call me if you would like to discuss this further or if you have additional information beyond what has been researched by our school system staff,” the email said.
Odom copied his email message to Daniell to the remaining four Board of Education members, Kim Argo, Wayne Bagley, Tim Burgess and Amy Parrish.
In his comments, Tuesday night, Daniell said the county proposed the roundabouts as a solution to a traffic problem.
Daniell said his own observations and photographs submitted by neighbors show traffic backing up on Malcom Bridge Road at the parent entrance to the middle school.
“To these conditions, you’re going to add 2,840 average trips per day with the shopping center,” Daniell said.
Daniell said the school system has said it will be adding about 60 students per year to Malcom Bridge Middle School over the next three to five years. A new middle school is planned for the campus of the Dove Creek Elementary School.
At present, 180 lots are zoned for houses within three miles of Malcom Bridge Middle School, Daniell said, and there is acreage zoned near the school for office and business development.
“When we’re looking at this, we’re not just looking at 40 minutes per day,” Daniell said, referring to school opening and closing times.“We’re looking at long term.”
Daniell said the county was given a “gift” when the developer asked for changes in the 2004 rezone, allowing the county to condition those changes on the developer agreeing to pay for intersection improvements.
Safety Of Officers
Daniell said the Sheriff’s Office had raised concerns about the safety of deputies, who now direct traffic at the school entrances.
|Daniell, Mark Thomas, Horton 5/21/2019|
“We were adding roughly six new traffic movements in that intersection,” Daniell said of the parent entrance. “You create anywhere from 12 to 18 points of conflict. His deputy is going to be standing in the middle of that.”
“It’s been no secret that a goal is to work with the Sheriff’s Office to get our deputies out of the road,” Daniell said. “We feel that anytime we can find an engineered solution to keep a deputy out of the road and to give better traffic flow, that’s the way we should head.”
Commissioner Chuck Horton reminded his colleagues of Deputy David Gilstrap, who was struck by and killed by a car while directing traffic in front of Oconee Primary School on Hog Mountain Road in October of 2008.
“The good news is both roundabouts can be constructed without right of way from the Board of Education,” Daniell said of the roundabouts at the parent and bus entrances.
“We originally asked them to go back and reconsider looking at the parent entrance,” Daniell said. “But based on review of the meeting from Monday night, we just withdrew that request.”
Daniell said the county will work with Lenru Development to redesign the roundabout at the parent entrance, moving onto its property.
The bus entrance roundabout can be shift to unused property the county owns as a result of the rezone of a master plan development in 2003, but it is unlikely the construction can be completed before school starts, Daniell said.
When the Board of Commissioners meets in June, Daniell said, he will come forward with a proposal and the commissioners can decide whether to go forward with construction of the roundabout at the bus entrance and at Mars Hill Road at this time.
He said he also will have information on how these two projects will be funded.
Relationship Of Boards
A 2015 study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia found that Georgia law does little to encourage collaboration between local governments and school districts.
The local governments and school districts have distinct missions and “their own elected governing bodies, policy and rulemaking authority, revenue and budgeting authority, executive authority, and even judicial authority,” the study concludes.
“Since the state legal environment does not promote collaboration, motivation must come from a mutual belief that working together will result in a better outcome than working alone,” according to the report.
The Board of Commissioners has responsibility for the county’s roads. The Board of Education has responsibility for the school property.
“I don’t think you will find in the history of the county that this much communication, coordination and attempt to collaborate with an adjacent property owner on a roadway project has ever occurred,” Daniell said early in the meeting on Tuesday.
The Sheriff is elected directly by the people, but the Sheriff’s Office is funded largely by the Board of Commissioners.
The Sheriff’s Office follows the county’s personnel policies, according to County Administrator Kirouac. The Sheriff’s Office employees are covered by the county’s benefits package and the Sheriff uses the pay classification plan of the Board of Commissioners.
In other action on Tuesday, the Board of Commissioners tentatively decided to dissolve the Citizen Advisory Committee for Cultural Affairs and Tourism.
Alex Perschka, county Tourism director, said the appointments to the newly formed Tourism and Visitor Bureau Board of Directors earlier this month made the Cultural Affairs And Tourism Committee unnecessary.
The Cultural Affairs and Tourism Committee has no scheduled meetings or business to discuss, Perschka said.
Daniell said the plans are to move in the direction of task forces rather than standing citizen committees and he will be asking the Board to approve other dissolutions.
The commissioners put the request by Perschka on the consent agenda for its meeting in June, meaning it will be approved without further discussion unless a commissioner objects.
The video below is of the Board of Commissioners meeting.
Daniell began the discussion of the roundabouts at 6:28 in the video.
The conversation lasted until 26:07.