OAK HILL — Planning for a decided uptick in traffic on the Oak Hill school campus beginning with the 2019-20 school year has involved a concerted, months-long effort.
In less than a month, the plans will be put to the test as around 4,000 students, as well as parents and staff, will begin their trek onto the campus when school begins Aug. 26.
This year, the campus will accommodate student learning and activities at Oak Hill High School, Oak Hill Middle School, New River Intermediate Elementary School and New River Primary Elementary School, in addition to Fayette Institute of Technology. New River Primary and Oak Hill Middle will be housed in a new building currently being completed, while the other schools will be in structures already in use.
Handling the increased traffic flow for the complex has required much consideration, says Bryan Parsons, the transportation director for Fayette County Schools.
"All eyes are on us, because nothing like this has ever been done in this state, where it's been done at one time, where it's such a massive change," said Parsons. "I think we have all of our ducks in a row."
Parents will obviously have to be aware of traffic patterns, Parsons stressed.
"Those principals at those schools are having open houses and they're going to explain traffic patterns to all their parents at the open house, and they're going to do all-calls to each parent," Parsons said.
A new access road off Halstead Avenue that connects the campus to the surrounding area will handle bus traffic on and off the site, Parsons said. That road is graded and is expected to be paved sometime this week. It will be utilized for bus traffic only. "It will be gated after the morning run, and it will be gated after the afternoon run, so during the school day it's locked," said Parsons.
The Allman Street access near the football stadium will continue to be used for parent and student traffic for the high school, as well.
In the morning only, parents who drop off their children at the high school may depart out the main exit at Oyler Avenue. In the afternoon, however, everyone arrives and exits via Allman. At other times during the school day, parents can use the Oyler front entrance for access.
Oak Hill Middle traffic will follow the same bus pattern as the high school since the schools are on the same time schedule, with a 7:30 a.m. start for classes. The first bus comes onto campus at 6:45 a.m. Middle school parents will come in Oyler and take a right around what has been New River Elementary and go behind the building. Signage will be up before the first day of school, Parsons said.
In the primary elementary situation, buses will come in off Halstead and go in the loop to drop off students, and it will mark the only time parents can go direct access to their school. Parents will drive in and out on Oyler.
The intermediate elementary will have the same bus pattern, but parents arrive via Oyler and go around the intermediate school and deposit their children in the normal drop-off zone behind the school, then exit out Oyler.
This fall, the 18 regular buses that already serviced the campus will be active, as well as eight Fayetteville buses and two Valley buses being brought into the mix.
"We've done everything we can to try to eliminate the glitches in it," said Parsons. "We've over-compensated in some areas to make sure we didn't have glitches."
From the outlying areas, former Valley students attending Oak Hill will come out of their respective homes via bus, then meet a transfer bus at the post office in Adena Village to travel Rte. 61 to Oak Hill. There are currently two buses planned for that route.
On the Rte. 60 side of the river, former Valley students who chose to attend Midland Trail will meet a transfer bus at the shopping complex near New River Campground in Gauley Bridge.
Since attending Riverside was also an option for Valley students, Fayette County Schools is providing transportation, as well. The plan calls for three buses to transport the more than 100 Valley students expected to attend the eastern Kanawha County school. Those transfer buses will collect students at the Valley PK-8 School in Smithers.
Activity buses to either Oak Hill, Midland Trail or Riverside will also be available for former Valley students. Extracurricular practices are set in two-hour blocks from 3 to 5 p.m., 5 to 7 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Those buses were "one of the things I stressed last year," said Parsons. "I know what it feels like to lose a school. I wanted to make sure that those kids didn't lose their opportunity (to participate)." The superintendent and the board of education were in agreement.
The need for activity buses will be assessed in the first few days of each sports season. "We'll have a bus at that location for three days. If no child comes to get on the bus, that run is canceled for that season."
Parsons will soon meet with bus drivers to further nail down overall time schedules. "After that, within two weeks, every principal will have (a spreadsheet of) every student enrolled in their school and what bus they'll ride in the morning and what bus they ride in the afternoon."
Parsons said meetings have also been ongoing with first responders regarding school safety for the campus.
He and Tim Payton, the school system's director of operations, took part in school safety training and "shared that with administrators at a principals' meeting the other day."
A meeting with emergency response personnel is set for Aug. 13 through Sheriff Mike Fridley. "Their concern is that campus as well," Parsons noted. "What's the plan to evacuate if we have to, because parents want to know these things. We want to make sure everything flows smoothly." A mock evacuation drill will possibly be set up in the future.
Meadow Bridge and Midland Trail attendance areas were not affected as far as retooled bus schedules. All told, 41 bus routes had to be restructured. "This has been a very challenging undertaking," Parsons said.
On top of those held last spring, bus dry runs are scheduled prior to the start of school.
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