CONWAY — It means more time on the bus for 29 elementary school students, but the Conway School Board believes it has come up with a safer way to get youngsters to school from the Hitching Post cabins and back on Route 16.
The board last month rejected a Transportation Committee’s recommendation to tell the students from the cabins located at 850 White Mountain Highway on the west side of the road in Conway to pick up the bus a tenth-of-a-mile south at Leavitt's Bakery.
Reportedly, three children would be picked up/dropped off there, based on current enrollment.
The Transportation Committee — SAU 9 Transportation Coordinator Gredel Shaw; Jim Hill, director of administrative services for SAU 9; and school board members Joe Mosca and Randy Davison — delivered an alternative plan at the school board's Sept. 9 meeting but voted 3-1 not to recommend it by a 3-1 vote (Davison in the minority).
However, the board accepted the plan 5-1-1, with Michelle Capozzoli, Davison, Joe Lentini, Cheri Sullivan and Jessica Whitelaw in the majority; Burke opposed; and Mosca voting present (basically abstaining to support the vote of the Transportation Committee, which he chairs).
The Hitching Post (then called the Conway Valley Inn and Cottages) was purchased in July 2017 by Judy and Parker Fairfield, who converted from an inn to long-term cabin rentals and brought back its former name.
This fall marked the first year families were staying there with children (elementary and middle school) and required school bus pickup and drop-off.
The Transportation Committee's alternative plan was explained this way:
“First, given the location of the potential stop, it is imperative that the door opens on the side of the motel, and not have them cross Route 16,” the report said.
“Based on that premise, the following plan could be implemented:
“For the morning middle school run, a bus heading south would pick them up at the top (north end) of the motel’s driveway/Eastern Slope Terrace at the start of their run. This will not add any additional time to the current route for this year only. Next year, or if a high school student moves in now, there will be additional time required for students sitting on the bus.
“For the morning elementary run, the bus would no longer turn around at Lamplighters. Instead, it would continue north on Route 16, travel down Shaw’s Way, turn left on Route 302 crossing two lanes of oncoming traffic, go to the lights at L.L. Bean and turn left, heading back south on Route 16.
"Again, the bus would stop at the north end of the Hitching Post driveway.
"There are approximately 29 students on the bus when it normally turns around at Lamplighters. These students will ride the bus an additional seven minutes in the morning, amounting to an additional 21 hours of ‘seat time’ on the bus per year for each student (7 minutes x 180 days).
“In the afternoon, the middle school run that normally drops off in the Redstone area will continue around at L.L. Bean and drop the students off at the Hitching Post, then cross oncoming traffic and turn around at Lamplighters and head north to John H. Fuller School, adding seven minutes to the time it takes to get to John Fuller.
“The afternoon elementary run will operate the same as the morning elementary run (using Shaw’s Way to turn around). There are 23 students that get dropped off after the Hitching Post stop. As a result, those students will spend an additional seven minutes on the bus. This amounts to an additional 21 hours of “seat time” on the bus per year (7 minutes x 180 days) for each student.”
Mosca said the Hitching Post site creates a safety hazard as a bus stop.
“In front of the Hitching Post, heading south you’re coming down a hill on a curve in a 45-50 mph zone,” he said. “Heading north, it’s two lanes traveling at 45-50 mph. In the winter it’s treacherous. We don’t believe that it’s a safe environment for a bus driver with a bus full of students to stop on that hill. We believe that given the rules and regulations, three-tenths of a mile down the street is within all the guidelines.”
Introducing the alternative plan, Mosca said: “The board can vote on it, but you have to realize we’re going to have kids on the bus a little bit longer every day."
But Davison said: “I firmly believe that adding seven minutes, possibly, to a bus run that might save a kid from getting hit is well worth it. I firmly believe that the two people (Hill and Shaw) that needed to fix this have fixed it. For the safety of the kiddos, we are going in the right direction.”
“I just want to thank those who put this plan together,” she said. “I know it took more time, but I feel a little bit better knowing that the kids will be safe and we have a better plan in place.”
Superintendent Kevin Richard said the transportation committee “did what it could” to try to bring this to a successful resolution.
“The issue is that once you go north (of the Hitching Post on Route 16) there is really nothing there (for a bus stop),” he said. “It does still cut across traffic down by Shaw’s, but they tried to wrack their brains to come up something, and, first and foremost, was making sure that the (bus) door was on the side (away from traffic).”
Mosca explained his "present" vote.
“My reason is that the committee didn’t go for it,” he said, “and as chairman of the committee, I’m sticking with what the majority vote for. I think this is going to open up a Pandora’s box. We’ll see what happens in the future.”