Almost two months after plans for a new bus route for Symonds School sparked concerns from nearby residents, a resolution remains elusive.
About 30 people attended the latest meeting on the issue Thursday, and another session is scheduled at the Keene elementary school Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
The bus route has been a hot topic since late September, when Symonds Principal Richard Cate issued a notice to people who live near the school, saying a new fenced-in bus circle would be built behind it on the playground. A bus circle is a designated area for buses to go for student drop-off and pick-up where bus drivers can turn around easily.
The goal of the new bus circle — totaling $55,700 and paid for through cost savings in another project — was to prevent traffic jams and improve safety for students, according to Cate.
Today, buses pick up and drop off Symonds students at the main entrance in front of the school building, which is also where the 250-car parking lot is, along with the entrance to Wheelock Park.
“It’s been increasingly difficult because more students [are getting] dropped off and picked up by parents, so the situation has gotten worse,” Cate previously said.
To get to the new circle, though, the school’s five buses would need to be routed through Wheelock Street, Newman Street and Pine Avenue in the mornings and afternoons.
And people who live in that neighborhood argue this route change would bring a new set of dangers. Among the concerns are that students who walk to school would be at risk of getting hit, and that the new bus traffic would drive down property values.
Amid the debate, N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay said at a meeting in October he was putting a pin in the nearly completed bus circle until more people were on board.
Residents also called upon City Councilors Randy Filiault and Robert O’Connor for help, but City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon said that this is a planning board matter, and that the only thing the project needs city approval for is a driveway permit.
School officials have not yet sought this permit, Malay said at Thursday’s meeting, which drew familiar faces from the first one in October.
Attendees split into two groups to write down different ideas for the school to consider instead of the bus circle, including the administration conducting a traffic study and cracking down on parents dropping their children off in the wrong places.
“It’s highly likely not everyone is going to like a specific idea. I know that, you know that,” Malay said. “... But if we can’t at least capture the different solutions that you have, so that we can start back at the beginning looking at those possible solutions, then how do we get there?”