Urbana City Schools board members expressed concerns over traffic congestion at the new elementary/middle school building, with some saying a bad situation will get worse on Boyce Street.
Other board members and staff highlighted additional safety concerns if all traffic is routed through Community Drive.
The board discussed the ongoing school site development at its Tuesday meeting. The district wants to build a pre-kindergarten to grade eight building on land it owns by the Champaign Family YMCA off Community Drive and knock down and rebuild the high school on its existing site. The construction is being funded by a bond issue approved by voters, and 61 percent of the cost will be paid by the state.
City officials are requesting two access points to the development for emergency needs and prefer that one of them be an extension of Washington Street across the property. Constructing a street does not fit in the school’s development budget, and the district’s attorneys say a school district cannot be required to build city streets. The school district will extend a portion of Community Drive to the site of the building, and the district is considering extending Boyce Street as the second access point.
The city Zoning Board of Appeals approved a conditional use permit to build a school on the site at its Monday meeting.
School board member Tim Lacy said he was worried about traffic if Boyce Street is extended to the new school building.
“Boyce just scares me,” he said, adding he thought extending Washington Avenue would be best if it could be done. “Eventually, you are going to have to correct that. It’s a bottleneck, a disaster waiting to happen. There’s going to be buses right on top of houses in some locations.”
Board President Alyssa Dunham said traffic has been bad at that location with the Boyce Street Athletic Complex there, but the hope is that a street extension and additional parking will reduce parking on the street.
Lacy also said he was worried that students running late would make traffic more snarled than it already is. Dunham noted that the students going to the elementary/middle school likely would not be driving at that age.
Lacy added parents running late also do not make the best decisions when driving. He expressed concern about high school students impacting traffic when going to the athletic complex.
“What scares me is I was a kid. I was an idiot behind the wheel,” he said. “You’ll get kids out there at the intersection coming in on Boyce and they’ll not have a lot of leeway to work with. I just don’t like Boyce. It’s a safety issue for me.”
Board Vice President Jan Engle said even if Boyce Street is not extended, traffic would be bad.
“There will always be a problem on Boyce Street because we are still using those fields,” he said. “Right now, people park along Boyce Street, which isn’t wide to begin with. They don’t use the parking lot like they should.”
One option is to combine all bus, parent and teacher traffic into Community Drive, but that is a lot of traffic to send through one location, officials say. It would involve more roadway rerouting on site to keep traffic separated.
“The biggest problem with all the traffic coming to Community Drive is that parents can be unpredictable,” Superintendent Charles Thiel said. “Having parents drop their kids off in unusual places, and having buses in the same place, would be a challenge.”
Board member Jack Beard said he liked the idea of having separated traffic through Boyce Street.
“Buses drive in Urbana every day. There are safety issues every day,” he said. “One of the good things for Boyce Street is separating buses and staff from the parent (traffic).”
The site design is not finalized. The next step is to have a site plan submitted to the city’s Planning Commission for review and approval.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.