The study, conducted by Skipper Consulting Inc., suggests building the new school on land across from Jacksonville High School rather than rebuilding it where Kitty Stone Elementary School now stands. The engineering firm made the decision because the site near the high school would offer better traffic flow when parents pick up and drop off their children.
“That gives us some valuable information,” Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said. “That data will be important for the board.”
The school board decided in the spring to pursue funding for a new elementary school because of the deteriorating condition of a portion of Kitty Stone Elementary. According to the study, it would take 20 minutes to clear the new site of traffic. That’s compared to the 40 minutes to clear traffic at Kitty Stone. The study states that pickup and drop-off periods cause traffic congestion and require daily road closures near the existing site, while “all pickups and drop-offs could be contained on the prospective campus.”
While the new site was evaluated positively for being quicker to clear, the existing site outscored the prospective site in two areas: most students live closer to it, and it has more sidewalks, making it friendly to pedestrians.
The study revealed that 95 percent of Kitty Stone students live within a 10-minute drive of the campus, while 70 percent of students live within 10 minutes of the prospective site.
The study also notes that, aside from the Chief Ladiga Trail, both sites lack bicycle facilities.
Some in the community, including board President Mike Poe, have said that they want students to have safe walkable and bikeable routes to school. The city has also placed an emphasis on making the community more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, adding bike racks to the Public Square, placing “share the road” signs along streets and developing a bicycle advisory committee.
Safe walkable and bikeable routes are also of some importance to Campbell, who said the city is planning to build sidewalks near the prospective site.
“I think there is a clear need for sidewalks in that area,” Campbell said.
The engineering firm also conducted traffic counts on the streets that border the prospective sites. It found that traffic flows on streets near both sites are nearly identical.
Some residents have concerns about the potential changes.
Not far from the proposed new school site is the planned new home for the municipal court, Police Department, jail and Fire Department. It may also include a new City Hall.
Some residents, including Susan Di Biase, who heads a quality of life committee in the city, have said the heart of Jacksonville will become less vital if the school moves.
“Private investment tends to follow public investment,” Di Biase said.
She also said she worries that the traffic volume will create safety problems along George Douthit Drive if the municipal development and new school are built along the road, where the high school and a Walmart already are located.
Officials acknowledge that George Douthit Drive is already one of the busiest roads in town, but they don’t foresee significant traffic problems because of the development. Mayor Johnny Smith said police and fire trucks leaving the city complex will primarily use Branscomb Drive, a block south of George Douthit Drive. Smith added that he doesn’t think the municipal development will significantly increase the traffic volume near it, because he said relatively few people will use it daily.
Campbell said the two schools would dismiss at different times and the study states elementary school traffic would use James Hopkins Road, preventing traffic congestion on George Douthit Drive.
Campbell also said the school system plans to consider several other factors before the board decides where to build the school. One of those factors, public opinion, will likely be of interest to Di Biase and others who share her concerns.
“The impression that people have gotten is that it’s a done deal,” Di Biase said. “I think they just haven’t had the chance to express their views.”
Campbell said the board plans to hold public forums later this summer or early next fall to discuss the development.
Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.