Board rejects latest bus loop plan

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Education: It’s back to the drawing board

By Whitney Jones

In an 11th-hour vote Tuesday night, the Los Alamos Public School Board rejected a proposal for a new bus loop.

After at least three design revisions, the committee charged with coming up with the proposal, formally presented a new bus loop design to the board during its regularly scheduled monthly meeting.

The bus loop committee selected the plan after reviewing and scoring at least nine different options including those that would unload students behind the school, along Diamond Drive and Canyon Road.

School District Superintendent Gene Schmidt said the option presented best fit the needs of the high school because it separates the bus drop off from the parent drop off.

In its decision, the committee took into consideration the impact to traffic along Diamond Drive, safety of pedestrians and bicyclists on surrounding roads, and the desire to preserve green space at the entrance.

A one-directional traffic pattern, improved safety for students crossing bus lanes and minimal change to the current system also shaped the bus loop committee’s decision.

The committee is made up of students, staff and community members.

Board Vice President Dawn Venhaus that some committee members may have felt that other options may have been safer but the plan being presented received the highest score.

Even so, school board members voted 3-1 to reject the plan, with Board President Kevin Honnell as the only dissenting vote. Venhaus abstained from voting on the plan, which counted as an affirmative vote as per parliamentary procedure rules regarding conflicts of interest and abstentions. Board member Judy Bjarke-McKenzie was absent.

The vote came after several bus loop committee members spoke up about safety concerns.
Committee member and District Bond and Construction Coordinator Herb McLean said he was concerned that that plan wouldn’t meet state Public Education Department’s requirement to isolate bus traffic from pedestrian traffic.

District Transportation Director Keith Rosenbaum took issue with bus and pedestrian safety. He said he’d like to see a wider sidewalk and a fence to separate the buses from students.

“We recognize that it’s not a perfect option,” committee member Janine Tulenko said.

But Venhaus said she wasn’t sure if the proposal was the best use of the appropriated $300,000 for the project since it was what she called “the best bad option.”

Honnell said he would’ve liked to see the vote go differently. He said the board tasked the committee with bringing the best possible recommendation forward and said the plan overall was just that, but that his colleagues may have found sufficient uncertainties so as to not move forward with it.

“We asked them to bring us a rock, they brought us a rock, but it wasn’t the right rock,” he said.

Honnell also said the board didn’t made an amendment for any future work, but said it should be up to those who voted to reject the recommendation to propose an amendment or ways to move forward.

“They think the status quo is what’s going to be in place for the near term,” he said.

Board member David Foster said he is, in fact, in favor of the committee’s recommendation overall even though he voted to reject the proposal. He said he would like to see the plan include the additional modifications brought up by Rosenbaum so as to ensure the safety of the students.

Schmidt said the committee would look for more guidance from the board to see what needs to be done next.

This is the latest such recommendation made by the committee since December, during which the board approved a bus loop which would have run in front of the Instructional Media Center, but later rescinded their approval in February when community members took issue with the plan taking up valued green space at the school.

Board members also rejected two bus loop options in March sending the committee back to the drawing board. One was the previously proposed plan, while the second option was a redesign of the parking lot.

The plan was initially due April 20.