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Wenham Selectmen Consider Closing Section of School Street

Wenham Selectmen said Tuesday they want to talk with the police chief and fire chief before making a decision about whether to recommend closing a section of School Street near Buker Elementary School.

Wenham Selectmen have yet to decide whether to recommend closing off a section of School Street that runs just feet from the playground.

No decision was made when the Board of Selectmen met on Tuesday night and the board decided to resume a discussion about the proposal when it meets in late September.

Remington Road resident Michelle Bailey asked the Selectmen to consider closing a section of the street permanently because of safety concerns.

Already, a portion of School Street is closed during school hours on school days. When it is closed, a metal gate is closed to block off the northern end of the street that runs between the school and the playground, which is on the opposite side of the street from the school.

But Bailey said she is worried that children become accustomed to the road being closed during school hours and may forget that it is not closed after school or on weekends.

In addition, the playground in “extremely close to the road” and there’s a chance that a car could veer off the road and into the playground, Bailey said. Plus, when cars are parked along both sides of School Street during games at the neighboring field, it makes visibility even more difficult, she said.

Selectmen Chairman Molly Martins said that Fire Chief Bob Blanchard has concerns about increased response times to an emergency call in the area if a section of the street is closed.

“It could affect response time if they have to go around, depending which direction they are coming from,” Martins said.

Martins said Police Chief Ken Walsh is opposed to it but recommends that concerned parents work with police to make safety improvements to the area.

Neither chief was able to attend Tuesday night’s Selectmen’s meeting and Selectmen said that they want to continue its consideration of the closure at a September meeting when both chiefs can attend and take part in the discussion.

Martins said Bailey raised “valid concerns” but wants to also consider other measures that could address safety concerns that would fall short of closing a section of the street.

Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said that speed bumps have been considered, but that Bill Tyack, director of the Highway Department, has raised concerns about maintenance and snow removal.

Martins also expressed concerns that closing a portion of School Street could set a precedent for other roads in town where residents may ask to have streets closed.

Chelgren also noted that this is not the first time town officials have considered a request to close off the same section of road.

“This is not an uncommon request,” he said.

Selectman John Clemenzi said town officials might want to consider adding a fence between the playground and the street. He also wants to hear more specific information about how dangerous it is to have the street remain open so close to the playground. He wants to hear about accidents, near-accidents or “mishaps” in the area.

“How serious in the safety issue?” Clemenzi asked. “Has anyone identified it?”

Page Sostek, a Perkins Street resident who lives near the intersection with School Street, said she is opposed to closing School Street.

Sostek said there are two other parks and two others schools in Hamilton and Wenham where there are playgrounds that are not near the street.

She is concerned about the way aggravated drivers may react as they come upon the closed street. Already, when it is closed, she sees them speed away on Perkins Street or back up to reverse direction, sometimes hitting her mailbox as they turn around.

Paul Weaver, Wenham’s town attorney, said that Selectmen have the power to alter or relocate a road but Town Meeting voters would have to approve “unaccepting” or abandoning a road.

Karen August 17, 2011 at 01:22 PM
I am opposed to the closing of school Street, while I understand the importance of the children's safety I think that there are other options that need to be looked at. The street is currently closed during school hours and reopens shortly after. How about possibly keeping the road closed an extra hour at the end of the day? Maybe a 4 foot fence that runs from the parking lot to Perkins Street with 1 or 2 gates to access the playground could be an option. The school is a busy place after school but nights and weekend it is hardly used. The gates that close the street are there and could be utilized during nighttime functions held at the school such as the ice cream socials, open house, etc... During the little league season people park on both sides of the street to watch the games narrowing the road to a single lane which is very dangerous. Perhaps parking should only be permitted on one side of the street and attendees could utilize the parking lot that sits vacant. I strongly believe that there are other options that should be thought about before closing a neighborhood street.
JBlade August 17, 2011 at 02:49 PM
It seems that the issue occurs when the road is opened after school, and parents are still hanging around the area while cars and kids intermingle. Perhaps more guarded supervision of children during this time is the most simple solution. Great comment : " Perhaps parking should only be permitted on one side of the street and attendees could utilize the parking lot that sits vacant. " May I suggests "no parking either side" between the Perkins Street gate, and the school crosswalk would work even more effectively?
Michelle Bailey August 17, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Yes, no parking on the street!
Michelle Bailey August 17, 2011 at 07:59 PM
More guarded supervision sound like a simple solution. But when you are watching one on the swings and one on the slide, you can't be everywhere when they start to run into the street. Putting up a fence would render the playground useless for elementary kids playing during school hours. The purpose of recess is to run, jump, climb, and play. How can we get the community together to find the best workable solution?
Lafmac August 17, 2011 at 09:15 PM
Why not make School Street a permanent one way in the Perkins to Arbor Street direction. I also agree that parking should not be allowed on School Street as a parking lot is available and parking on Perkins should only be allowed on the side opposite the Buker fields.
Page August 17, 2011 at 11:53 PM
I agree that the parking lot should be utilized, especially on the weekends during baseball, but Perkins Street parking should stay on the side next to the playing fields or not at all. It would be difficult to see oncoming traffic or possibly children when exiting a driveway if vision was impaired by cars flanking driveways. I believe this is why there is currently no parking allowed on this side of Perkins Street.
Karen August 18, 2011 at 11:22 AM
Michelle, when I first read your response I thought that you were going to say that a fence would be a great idea. People put up fences all the time for safety and privacy. I really do not think that a 3-4 post and rail fence would render the playground useless. With a fence placed along the street from the parking lot to Perkins Street with a few openings would make it easier to see where kids are. I understand that kids need to run etc, however they need to be safe first. I wonder what causes more accidents every years at Buker, traffic or the playground?? There are several issues between School Street and Perkins Street that need to be looked at and a solution found. Most I think can be solved pretty easily without having to close School Street 24/7,,,

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