Traffic jam: District explores ways to alleviate traffic congestion at high school site

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By Jessie Wagoner

 

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles exploring the proposed $112.8 million bond being presented to voters by McPherson Public Schools.

If the proposed $112.8 million bond passes, a new middle school for seventh and eighth graders will be constructed at the McPherson High School location. A stadium, with a synthetic football field and track will be added for high school students and another field and track will be added for middle school students.

Approximately 1,100 students will be attending school at the proposed joint location. The site will have to accommodate much more traffic with the addition of the middle school, as students are picked up and dropped each day. Middle school staff will also require additional parking at the site. The 43.1-acre site, while large enough for the current high school, may not be suitable to house two schools, a stadium, a secondary field and adequate parking.

According to the USD-418 district profile, which can be found at www.mcpherson.com, secondary school site sizes vary considerably because of different needs for outside physical education facilities, parking, buffer areas, etc., but standards often encouraged are 20 acres plus one acre per 100 students for junior high schools and 30 acres plus one acre per 100 students for high schools. McPherson High School currently has an enrollment of 759 students, which would require at a minimum, 37 acres for the high school site alone. The middle school has another approximate 300 students, which would require 23 acres.

“An important point when building a new school is to acquire enough land initially to satisfy both existing and potential future needs for building expansion, accessory facilities and to handle safely the pedestrian traffic approaching or leaving the school, the district profile reads.

If the middle school and high school were on the same property, according to the district’s profile, it would require at least 60 acres of land. The site, as outlined in the proposed bond, is only 43.1 acres, 17 acres smaller than needed.

Two board members, Dr. Kim Janzen and Dale Patrick, as well as numerous community members, have expressed concerns about the potential traffic problems, which will likely arise if the proposed bond is passed. Architects with DLR Group have said they are considering options to make parking and traffic flow workable in the area. Kevin Greischer with DLR Group says a traffic engineer has been hired to evaluate the area and help develop a plan. Options being considered are traffic lights, right turn only lanes and staggering the start and stop times for the schools.

“It is going to have a lot of cars on it,” Greischer said of the proposed site. “I think the way you take care of that is mainly at pick up time when parents arrive early. We have to have enough queuing so that we can have 30 to 40 queued up and not on the street. So, what we are identifying is the area to queue up 35 to 40 cars at the middle school area. They will go up that east drive and have a turnaround behind the Roundhouse and come back. Then the high school will have queuing for at least 20 cars for freshmen and those that need a ride.

Administrators are optimistic the traffic planning and staggering start and stop times of the schools will help alleviate traffic congestion issues.

“Not all of the middle school and high school kids need to start at the same time,” Shiloh Vincent, USD-418 superintendent said. “We could literally transition seventh and eighth to the site and keep the middle school and high school start times exactly as they are today and we have a 20 minute window where the traffic for the high school is gone or already there and parked by the time the middle school families start to transition.”

Community members have also sounded the alarm about potentially landlocking the high school and limiting potential growth in the future by placing so many buildings and amenities on a small site. Greischer explains how the current proposal can meet future needs and allow for expansion if needed.

“When we program any building today or over the last 10 years, we always program a building to have its capacity at 85 percent,” Greischer said. “The reason for that is to have actual room for that growth without having to do anything. “

McPherson School District has not experienced significant growth over the last 25 years, in fact, the district has lower student enrollment than they did 25 years ago. At this time, the district does not anticipate a significant change in enrollment numbers, which would cause a need for additional space in the near future.

“We aren’t building extra space,” Greischer said. “We are building flexibility for spaces and programs to change and grow and turn into different things. The buildings will have flexibility.”

The district has said the goal is for this bond to be a multi-decade plan, addressing district needs far into the future.

For voter consideration

Registered voters living within the boundaries of McPherson Public Schools will be asked to vote on two questions related to the bond during the election on June 6.

Voters will be asked to consider the proposed bond of $112.8 million. The bond is for 30 years and includes an estimated interest of $89 million. The district currently has $10 million in bond repayments to be made on the 2013 bond, which will be paid off in 2033. The proposed bond will result in a property tax increase, as the mill levy will increase to 17.885 mills.

Voters are also being asked to consider a city sales tax question. The city currently collects one percent sales tax, actually two half-cent sales taxes. Voters will be asked to extend those sales tax collections for 30 years. One of the half-cent sales taxes will be diverted to the school district to help pay the bond. One of the half-cent sales taxes will remain with the city to pay for infrastructure needs, like road repairs, which need to be made on a continual basis. Voters will not see an increase in the sales tax they are currently paying, but will see the tax extended for 30 years. It is estimated by extending the sales tax and have one of the half-cent sales taxes go to the school district, it would generate $1.7 million a year to help pay off the bond.

Both questions must pass for the bond to pass.