Let’s Play in Traffic, Kids!

THE GREEN SCHOOL AS TIME BOMB

English reporter Claud Cockburn liked to say, “Never believe anything until it has been officially denied.” As Australian reporter John Pilger puts it, “If it is officially denied, then it’s probably true.” On Tuesday, June 29, at the Monongalia County Board of Education meeting, Board President Nancy Walker (via phone) read a prepared statement denying outside influence in the school siting process (presumably by real estate developers, WVU, and others). Then the next day, June 30, in the Charleston Daily Mail, reporter Ry Rivard quotes WV School Building Authority Director Mark Manchin stating: “I want to make it very, very clear, those decisions [regarding school location] are made at the local level; by the time it gets to us, the authority wants these things resolved.” One must follow the law, after all.

Exhibit next: see the April 27 edition of the Dominion Post, page 9-A, top headline: “Green school officially Mon’s: SBA OKs funds for new facility” … “to be built at the intersection of Mileground Road and W. Va. 705.”

Then see the headline immediately below: “Property cleared along W. Va. 705: Developers have no ‘real plans’…” according to “Dave Biafora, one of the site’s developers” of 705-Five Development Group, developers of the adjacent housing and commerce of Suncrest Village Condos and Suncrest Towne Center on 705 and other projects stretching along a rough corridor of 705 and the Mileground to their new Pierpont Landing “plaza right off of Interstate 68, a 22,000-square foot facility [that] will feature retail shops and two restaurants along with [the Biafora] Metro Properties offices on the second floor,” notes WBOY. “‘We’ve got a lot of exciting things,’ said Biafora. ‘We’re not going to be the same old shopping center on 705 and 68. We’re going to have unique shops you don’t find in a lot of places’.”

And would a showy green school not be nice for Morgantown area land barons and SBA Director Mark Manchin who “jokes” about “driving by the Mileground site” – which, as if afflicted by a peculiar type of tunnel vision, he calls “beautiful” – “every time he attends a Mountaineer football game” and affirms “he is ‘very, very interested’ to partner with Mon County Schools to bring a ‘green’ school to the community.” Ah, a new green landmark building to cover the “beautiful” site to be gazed upon during gameday drive-bys. That’s nice. How considerate to locate a showcase green school between 705 and I-68, on the Mileground, rather than in any stable and sizeable neighborhood. What a nice addition for a long stretch of commerce and condos! The Biaforas apparently don’t mind locating their offices at an intersection, but children are different. Children play outdoors, and should not have to do so to the sound of screaming commuter and commercial thruway traffic resounding off the cliffs of 705, near one of the most congested and busy intersections in Morgantown. Children like to walk and bike to and around their school, but one may as well send them to “play in traffic” as to try to cross the impending four or five lane thruways to get to the proposed Mileground school.

To hell with revitalizing the longstanding, sizeable Woodburn and Jerome Park neighborhoods, uniquely situated near downtown and with great access to the surrounds and to the adjacent parks and trails. To hell with revitalization when one can further sprawl and congestion and ever increasing traffic at one of Morgantown’s most congested and high traffic intersections: 705 and the Mileground. It’s so beautiful there. It’s “ideal” in location, golly gee, about a mile between each of the two old schools to be consolidated! What more about siting need be considered?! What a great place for an environmental showcase of a school, so much undermining! so much traffic! and the expense!, oh my!

Are we to believe that the 705/Mileground intersection is not congested or not high traffic, not traffic-crash dangerous, and not loud, not child unfriendly, and not less green for its impending development, and not an all-around lousy educational site?

Don’t believe anything unless it is officially denied.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, the school board members fell over themselves in declaring that no matter the conditions! no matter the context! no matter the surroundings! the Mon Schools teachers could teach the children to learn and learn well! why, even if the Mon teachers were teaching in a collapsing outhouse! those kids would get a good education! no matter how precipitously the outhouse tipped over an abandoned mine!

Attendees were left to wonder, well if that is truly the case, why not just leave open the two old schools, Easton and Woodburn, even though and especially though! they are woefully inadequate? One expected to hear next school board praises sung of teaching in an old outhouse at the edge of a cliff above an abandoned mine next to a racetrack across from a gambling den by a gas station or four down the road from a strip club alongside any number of other eyesores and dangers.

Oh, wait.

Does anyone really want to own the school siting at the 705/Mileground intersection anymore? If ever?

School Building Authority Director Mark Manchin?:

“I want to make it very, very clear, those decisions [regarding school location] are made at the local level; by the time it gets to us, the authority wants these things resolved.”

WVU?

“WVU…does not believe [the land] is unsafe. ‘[The Mon school board and administration] have got the information they need, and we are confident they will make a safe and good decision,’ said university spokesman John Bolt.”

The Morgantown Metropolitan Planning Organization?

Regarding the school district’s original brilliant plan for handling access and egress to the proposed school site, the MPO had this to say: “…the school traffic will…choke the road.”

The Easton school principal?:

She publicly hopes that the isolated yet highly visible Mileground site “might not be that bad.”

The Morgantown mayor?

Not his preference.

The Morgantown City Council?

Not its preference.

The hundreds of people who over the span of a mere few weeks signed a petition?

Not their preference.

The hundreds of motorists who supported the protest against the site?

Not their preference.

Local state delegates?

Not their preference.

WVU law professor Bob Bastress?

” ‘People think it’s crazy’,” he said. ” ‘Parents will not allow their children to walk or ride bikes to school. It would be like saying, ‘Go out and play in traffic.’ “

WVU professor Katy Ryan?

“She said…she’ll never get behind the Mileground site for the new school. ‘It doesn’t seem to be a good lesson that you can build anywhere…and still call it “green”.’ “

Local taxpayers?

No sense reusing and revitalizing Woodburn neighborhood land that the school district already owns, when it can pay WVU $2.275 million for mined-out land, then pour an additional $650,000 into the ground as mine-fill. Maybe too the green school could celebrate its grand opening with a bonfire of a mountain of thousand dollar bills.

Not to worry says Superintendent Frank Devono: ” ‘We’ll certainly address [the mine void], no different than what we did up at University High School’,” he said, of the mine-fill project that ran $700,000 over budget.

Ry Rivard at the Charleston Daily Mail reports:

Morgantown-based Triad Engineering found there is “very high subsidence potential” at the [proposed Mileground] site. Subsidence is the settling or downward motion of earth. … The report found that, “subsidence events, should they occur at this location, will be created by the abrupt, catastrophic cracking and failure of the overlying sandstone. … Such a failure in close proximity to any proposed structure would cause sudden, severe damages,” the report found. … “The introduction of the heavy equipment necessary for site grading will likely precipitate cracking in the sandstone overlying the mine voids and increase the likelihood of a subsidence event in the future, as will the loading imposed by the new structure(s),” Triad engineers said.

And what about the adjacent trailer park, next to the proposed playgrounds, that recently had a terrible murder in it?

What if funding for the 705/Mileground expansion and roundabouts falls through and congestion goes from unbearable without the school to unbearable-squared with it…or what if the road construction occurs but at the same time the school opens or is being constructed…or what if highway construction is difficult (undermining collapses) or roundabouts are a disaster in practice, especially since roundabouts are new to this area…or there are ongoing and increasing numbers of accidents just as predicted by DOH study…what if there are school bus accidents in the not one but two proposed roundabouts connecting the school to the highways at the 705/Mileground intersection? or accidents there involving students riding in cars driven by parents?

What if the undermining is even more severe than anticipated…or the ground collapses or “troughs” during school construction where no mine-fill was planned…or troughs in any of the years to come on the Mileground? On Woodburn grounds, there is no undermining. The coal seams long ago once lay on top of the existing site and have long since eroded off.

What if the school district decides to expand the school? On the Mileground, it has plenty of lousy abandoned mine terrain to expand over; whereas, expansion could readily be appropriately stopped by the surrounding neighborhoods at a school built on Woodburn grounds.

What if before or after any potential calamities, the public sues the local school board, the SBA, WVU, and the state school board (who must approve the project)? Maybe since there is federal money involved the feds get involved? Who wants to own the siting then?

Don’t believe anything until it has been officially denied.

The local school board and superintendent (and their architect) have behaved in galling and inappropriate manner, documented in detail.

Who is seriously arguing that the 705/Mileground intersection is a good place for an elementary school? The “best that could be done” is about the only pro-intersection school argument heard anymore. Well, but given the number of potential pitfalls, the ostensible “best that could be done” site might result in ever more serious embarrassment, outrage, or potential disaster, for which the lawsuits could be extensive and expensive. So no wonder if no one really wants to own this project at this point. PR rhetoric aside.

Don’t believe anything until it has been officially denied.

Next up – the $4 million question:

Who will buy from the city the old armory site on the Mileground, next to the proposed school site, and what might get put there? what could get put there? how will it be accessed? does the city or does the school district know what, how, when, or if a proposed school would be sharing roundabout access with…with what? how would access work, given the impending road expansion next to that skinny strip of a horrible school site? what if it’s a toxic, explosives-laden gas station that goes in there, the one Sheetz has schematically designed to build there next to the school site and school building?

Don’t believe anything until it has been officially denied.

Parents, buses, and school children could entirely avoid traveling the length of the Mileground by attending a school built in Woodburn. Buses and cars could simply take, from the airport, Hartman Run Road to Richwood Avenue. Or from, the junction of 705, follow 119 toward downtown, then take Charles Avenue or Monongalia and James. Could these roads not be modestly improved if necessary as part of an area revitalization project?

Don’t believe anything until it has been officially denied.

Monongalia County School District is intent upon wasting and abandoning good land that ranks as some of its most valuable and increasingly valuable property: the Woodburn schoolgrounds. School Board President Nancy Walker reported that WVU Vice President of Administration and Finance Narvel Weese told her that WVU land (for potential use as an elementary school) at the old UHS site would be appraised at a higher value than the Mileground land because the old UHS land was closer to downtown, making it more valuable. Just so is the Woodburn land valuably close to downtown, within convenient walking distance by both sidewalk and the adjacent parks’ trail systems. Woodburn is far closer to community, city, and university resources, and even natural resources (because of the neighboring extensive park system), than the Mileground can ever be. Moreover, the Woodburn schoolgrounds have good access to the outer city and surrounding county via nearby routes, including route 119 (.35 mile), route 7 (.7 mile), route 857 (.7 mile),  & route 705 (1 mile).

Mon School District officials have pushed (not very successfully) the public to believe that Woodburn schoolgrounds are not valuable; not a good fit; could not be modestly and sensibly made ever more roomy by purchase from willing sellers; allow poor access; have poor relation to town and surrounds; cannot be reached except by driving the length of the Mileground; and are otherwise not an appropriate site for a new combined school with Easton Elementary. Not much could be further from the truth.

The officials involved need to think again. They need to have their attention refocused and their understandings and priorities properly adjusted. They need to be pushed, directed, and led by the public, as people continue to consider what has been officially denied, and why.

The public needs to and ought to stop the officials’ sale of WVU land to the school district; the public must block the siting of an elementary school at the 705/Mileground intersection; and the public must place the elementary school at an appropriate site, such as the Woodburn schoolgrounds. The public should insist upon and see to the revitalization of the schoolgrounds, the neighborhoods, the city, and the larger county, one sensible step at a time.

We must not pack our children off to play, to learn, and to live in traffic. There is nothing green about that concept, which is easy to understand, and which has been widely understood throughout the city and the county, both before and after it has been officially denied.

ALSO SEE, “DOUBLING DOWN ON DANGEROUS” (posted May 9, 2010):

DP, May 6th, 2010:

“When The Dominion Post asked [Monongalia County Schools Superintendent Frank Devono] if he was concerned about [Eastwood Elementary] school traffic traveling through the [impending WV705/Mileground] roundabout, Devono said he’d never viewed it as a concern.”

The vast majority of people have expressed a very different view. Various local residents and officials quoted in the media –

  • Former City Council member Don Spencer said: Mon Schools’ original Eastwood traffic plan would “choke the road.”
  • Former City Council member Charlier Byrer said: “The only pedestrians on the Mileground are dead ones.”
  • Melissa Levine: “It’s going to be a mess up there.”
  • Attorney/Professor Bob Bastress: “People think it’s crazy. Parents will not allow their children to walk or ride bikes to school. It would be like saying, ‘Go out and play in traffic.’”
  • Judy Sheers: ”[A] concern…shared among many parents is traffic. ‘The location already has a lot of traffic and with a new school here it could become a problem.’”
  • Student Abigail Lemine: “I just don’t like where [Eastwood Elementary school site] is located. There is really bad traffic.”
  • Morgantown Pedestrian Safety Board Chairman Christiaan Abildso: “They’re [DOH] turning it [the Mileground]  into Patteson [Drive], and I think Patteson is one of the most dangerous corridors in Morgantown. The Police are there every other day [for crashes]. … It’s just not safe.”
  • Morgantown Bicycle Board Chairman Frank Gmeindl: “From a safety factor, it’s clear that having a median is safer.” [Instead, the DOH plans to widen the Mileground from 3 lanes to 5 lanes to accommodate business interests instead of widening the corridor to a still dangerous 4 lanes with a median.]

A Dominion Post study revealed the WV705/Mileground intersection to be one of the most dangerous intersections in the area for crashes.

The West Virginia Division of Highways final report on the WV705/Mileground expansion states that the current 5-lane plan does not “eliminate the most severe crash types – head-on and right-angle crashes” and that “Crash experience is expected to increase” while “Capacity [congestion] issues at intersections may remain.”

State Board of Education Rule 6200 202.06 (“School Site Planning…[and] Location”), states that “for the safety of students” new school sites must not be located near (let alone adjacent to and engulfed by) ”hazards and undesirable environments, such as…arterial highways, heavily traveled streets, traffic and congestion…noise…[and/or] situations where a combination of factors such as those presented above could contribute to the possibility of human entrapment.” WV705, the Mileground, and their intersection at and around the Eastwood site combine all the prohibited features above.

State Code §18-5-13, which is state law: Each “county board” of education is “subject to…the rules of the State Board” – including Rule number 6200 above.

The West Virginia Supreme Court: ”Of course, an agency must follow and apply its rules and regulations in existence at the time of agency action” (Appalachian Power v. State Tax Department of West Virginia; 1995).

Eastwood Elementary on the Mileground: an immediate mess, and a disaster in the making.

One Response to “Let’s Play in Traffic, Kids!”

  1. Woah! | The City of Morgantown Says:

    […] from Woodburn apparently isn’t exactly amused by its closure this week. What a fantastic […]


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