Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Consultants Tell Oconee County School Board Members They Do Not Like Changes County Has Made Or Proposed For Malcom Bridge Road

***Board Hired Firm To Evaluate County Road Plans***

Matt Tanner from Breedlove Land Planning Inc. of Bishop and Atlanta does not like any of the options being considered by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners for a redesigned parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

He also does not like the roundabout the Board has built at the bus entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School and Malcom Bridge Elementary School.

His recommendation is that the county tear out the median that it has just built as part of the roundabout and construct a left-turn lane into the middle school in its place.

Tanner would add space for a right-turn lane into the middle school, but he otherwise would leave the intersection as is and continue to have an officer direct traffic into the school.

Tanner made these observations and recommendations to the Oconee County Board of Education on Monday.

The Board of Education had hired Breedlove Land Planning to do what the firm called a Malcom Bridge Road Modification Study as part of the School Board’s continuing fight with the Board of Commissioners over changes the Board of Commissioners has made and has proposed for the roadway in front of the schools.

Superintendent’s Report

Superintendent Jason Branch, during his report to the School Board at its regular meeting on Monday, introduced Michael Breedlove, founder of the firm, saying that the Board had requested the study of road improvements around the campus of the two schools.

Branch Introducing Breedlove 8/10/2020

Breedlove then turned the presentation over to Tanner.

Tanner said the Board of Education had asked him to address three concerns.

He was to look at the impact of roundabout already installed by the county in front of the middle and elementary school bus entrance, he said.

He was to review the three proposed modifications of the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School, he said.

Finally, he said he was to review and analyze modifications to school property suggested by the Board of Commissioners that would increase storage capacity of vehicles.

The Board of Commissioners has responsibility for roadways in the county, but the Board of Education controls traffic on school property.

In May of 2019, the Board of Education tried to thwart efforts by the county to build roundabouts at school entrances by refusing to grant easements that would make that possible. 

The Board of Commissioners shifted the roundabout at the bus entrance off school property to be able to go forward with that project but has not yet settled on a design for the parent entrance.

County Transportation Plan

Tanner said he had relied in part on the county’s Transportation Study, completed in March of 2019, in doing his analysis.  

Burgess Reacting To Tanner's Comments 8/10/2020

That report, he said, does not identify Malcom Bridge Road in front of the schools as a priority for improvement.

Board Member Tim Burgess, who has been an outspoken critic of the Board of Commissioners, interrupted Tanner at that point.

“You would assume that the Oconee County Commissioners have seen this study as well?” Burgess asked.

“I would assume so,” Tanner responded.

The Board appointed a citizen Task Force and met several times publicly with that Task Force to review the recommendations of the Georgia Department of Transportation consultants who did the study.  

Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell, in particular, spoke critically of the Transportation Study at one of those meetings, saying it focused too much on large projects and expanding capacity.

The Board of Commissioners has said that it was motivated to make improvements to Malcom Bridge Road because of projected commercial and residential growth along the roadway generally and specifically because of a shopping center being developed across from the entrance to the middle school.

Review Of Plans

Tanner said before the county built the roundabout at the bus entrance to the two schools there was storage capacity for 59 cars to enter Malcom Bridge Middle School at the parent entrance.

The roundabout the county built at the bus entrance to the two schools reduced that capacity to 23 cars, he said.

The county has proposed three plans for the parent entrance to the middle school, Tanner said: a modified R Cut with a U Turn, a variant of that plan that would add right-turn lane capacity, and a roundabout.

Tanner said the Modified R Cut, in his view, would not eliminate the need for a deputy in the roadway.

The increased turn lane capacity would only help the cars coming from the south, he said.

A roundabout would create “gridlock,” he said, and it likely would necessitate a crossing guard, putting another human in the roadway.

He also said the onsite modifications proposed by the Board of Commissioners for the school property itself would not work because they involved too many lanes of traffic and, in one proposal, would mix parent and bus traffic in a roadway.

Proposed Solution

Tanner said if the county would tear out the median it has just completed at the roundabout in front of the bus entrance to the middle school and would build an additional turn lane it would be possible to get back to a storage capacity of 38 vehicles.

“I would definitely suggest that we approach them and talk about this,” he said.

Tanner said the best solution was to leave the parent entrance unchanged and continue to have a deputy direct traffic, which is the position the Board of Education has taken from the beginning and that Board of Commissioners has opposed.

The Board of Commissioners has said one of its goals was to get the deputy out of traffic for safety reasons.

“It has been a great help to bring some new professional perspectives to an issue from the perspective of the schools,” Burgess said, thanking Tanner for his presentation when he finished.

“From the very beginning, a lot of this debate has been about what the county felt like they wanted to do because of county needs or county objectives,” he said.

“Interesting you pointed out that the long term study doesn’t even validate necessarily that,” he said.

“But you have added some clarity for the impact that this has on the school that I don’t think we had quite fully understood,” he said.

The Board took no action following the Breedlove presentation.

I asked Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, for a copy of the contract with Breedlove showing costs, and she asked me to file an open records request, which I have done.

Public Comment

The Board of Education allows citizens to speak only at its regular meetings, and two came forward to do so on Monday.

Andrea Wellnitz, 1651 Rambling Rill Drive, in the far west of the county, who ran unsuccessfully for the Board in 2018, told said that she wants Oconee County Schools to impose a mask mandate rather than rely on encouraging students to wear masks.

She said she also wants to the schools to do more to reach out to those students who are attending school through distance or digital learning rather than through in-person instruction.

She also asked the Board to re-initiate live-streaming of meetings, which it dropped beginning with the work session on Aug. 3, and to provide more support for teachers and staff.

Wellnitz had registered in advance and was allowed to speak for five minutes.

Nannette Mosley, 1090 McRees Mill Lane, off Barnett Shoals Road east of Watkinsville, had not registered, so she was allowed to speak only for three minutes.

Mosley made a forceful plea for the mask requirement, citing its impact on teachers.

“Caught between the fear of retribution, if they speak out, and fear of catching COVID or passing it to a loved one at home, their hands are tied,” she said. “They are reduced to entreating their students to please protect them with a mask, but if a student refuses, there is nothing more to be done.”

Board members did not respond to either speaker.


The video below was recorded by Philip Ashford.

The presentation by Breedlove began at 14:30 in the video.

Wellnitz began speaking at 54:10 in the video and was followed by Mosley.


Charlie said...

The BOE needs to stop wasting time, attention and taxpayer money on the roundabout issue. Roundabouts work and there are more important issues on which to spend money. They need to GET OVER IT.

Lee Becker said...

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