Pea Ridge takes close look at school growth issues
PEA RIDGE — Faced with overwhelming growth causing schools to be bursting at the seams and no money to build more facilities, Pea Ridge school officials are reassessing options after voters rejected a millage increase.
The rejected proposal was to pay for a new high school on school land north of town.
“The first major piece to consider is the traffic issue,” superintendent Rick Neal said during a recent study session with school officials and the mayor.
Some of the opposition voiced on social media during the millage campaign, Neal said, included complaints about traffic congestion in front of the high school, which is at the intersection of Hayden Road and West Pickens Road. With the new high school proposed for a 77- acre tract north of the city park on Hayden Road, some residents expressed concern about compounding the congestion at that intersection.
The land was purchased by the school as the most economical option because it had utilities available. The property was purchased in 2014.
“We have talked with [ the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department],” Mayor Jackie Crabtree said. “We have authorization to put a turn lane in on 265 and Pickens.
“It will cost about $50,000,” Crabtree said adding utilities will have to be moved.
Another option considered for the congestion, Crabtree said, is to reroute the north end of Weston Road to the west on land used for the high school parking lot and make a four-way intersection with Hayden and Pickens. Crabtree said the option would cost about $200,000.
“At whose expense?” asked Jenny Wood of the School Board.
“We hope it would be a shared expense,” Crabtree said.
“Why shared?” Wood asked.
“The city doesn’t have that much money to put in,” Crabtree said, adding the intersection would probably be a four-way stop sign intersection because a traffic light is too costly.
“It would cost in the millions,” the mayor said, explaining when he looked at the possibility of a stop light downtown in 2004, it was projected to cost $ 1.5 million. He said the city could “do a bond issue or something” to pay for moving the street but it would require approval from the City Council and would be a year to a year-and-a-half down the road.
“We don’t want to make it … if you’re not putting the school out there,” Crabtree said.
“But, even if the school doesn’t go out there, somebody else will build there,” Wood said, emphasizing traffic congestion would be a problem at the intersection even without a new high school north of town.
Traff ic counts show 5,000 to 6,000 cars travel through the intersection a day, said Rob Miller of RLP Development.
“It’s a council issue, not a school issue,” School Board member Jeff Neil said. “That’s where it got hairy, people were aggravated with the school and perceived it as the school’s problem.”
“We are really at a standstill on the school side,” Wood said.
“AHTD is very picky,” Crabtree said. “They’ve done traffic studies and their only recommendations are turn lanes.
“We can only do what the Highway Department allows us to do,” said Crabtree.
“The restraints are not the Highway Department,” Neil said. “The restraint is the council. We can’t get the council to move forward quickly enough to get a school building out there.”
“This is not a new problem. This problem has been here for years. As a board, we have a 10-year plan,” Wood said. “We don’t know about growth all the time, but we plan for the growth. It’s (the traffic) been a problem for at least 15 years. I’ve heard about that intersection the whole time. It does sound like a council problem because they don’t see that as a priority.”
“I think there is a real possibility we could move forward,” Neil said, “but we’ll be looking at that intersection the same as it is today. Our council does not seem to move at the same pace. I’m not laying this on the mayor. But there is no real incentive to move at the same pace that the school does.
“I think it’s a real possibility, we’re looking at a traffic constraint and a problem for years to come,” Neil said.