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ESBC reviews traffic plans ahead of Wednesday’s public forum

by | Jun 6, 2023 | Education, Featured: Education

Senior Project Manager Vinod Kalikiri from VHB presented an overview of a traffic study for the proposed new Elmwood School on Monday to the Elementary School Building Committee. He highlighted recommendations on how to mitigate the project’s impact as well as improve traffic flow around the site in general.

The traffic study likely will be a key topic of an entirely virtual public forum this Wednesday (6:30 p.m.). Citizens will be able to participate via the chat function or voice during the session. It also will be available for viewing on HCAM.

After explaining the study looked at different time frames and involved the middle and high school traffic, Kalikiri cited non-compliance to changing speed limits of 40 mph to 20 mph along the Chestnut Street/Hayden Rowe Street corridor.

He said the data considered the fact Hopkins School would switch to the same start and dismissal times as the middle and high schools with the addition of Grade 6. Also, the proposed Elmwood School would add Grade 4, so the traffic was reassigned there. All analysis included enrollment projections for 10 years, Kalikiri said.

He noted that improvements are needed on Hayden Rowe Street at the driveways at Marathon School and proposed Elmwood School replacement. He said as part of the post-construction effort, safety zone regulations could be considered on Hayden Rowe Street.

Kalikiri said the most important recommendations are putting a traffic control signal at the Marathon driveway and a left turn restriction lane at the new school’s driveway. Traffic heading out of that driveway would only turn right.

The existing turn lane near Marathon could be extended from 175 feet to 400 feet, he said. Other recommendations are a signalized crosswalk at Marathon (operated by a push button); an internal connection between the two schools to provide flexibility for parents with children at multiple grade levels; and signal ahead signs traveling north and south.

Kalikiri said the benefit of the plan was providing “signalized breaks” in traffic to help residents turn more efficiently.

Elementary School Building Committee member Mike Shepard noted that a conduit was put under the road because the original Marathon project plan called for a signal where it is suggested now. The idea was rejected by the Planning Board during the process but could be looked upon more favorably with two schools involved.

He said that having to move utility poles would involve coordinating with Eversource, which he described as “an outrageously bad deal … too complicated,” but added it was important for people to know what is ahead.

Vertex Project Director Jeff D’Amico said about 60 percent of this work is directly related to the Elmwood School replacement project while the other 40 percent impacts the rest of the district. The costs for the traffic component most likely would be included in the total presented at Town Meeting and not separated out, although that is an option.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) does not reimburse the town for traffic costs, Shepard noted as he asked for a “ballpark figure” for this component of the project.

Emphasizing he would have to run specific numbers for Hopkinton, Kalikiri replied it typically would end up in the range of $2 million to $2.5 million.

He said the primary goal is for the Elmwood project to have minimal traffic impacts, followed by safety considerations. Kalikiri said the plan is at the “concept” level and there would be some flexibility in the design during the post-construction monitoring phase to “reassess and fine tune,” if necessary.

School Committee member Nancy Cavanaugh said all the information presented is “pivotal to town residents … that the traffic be at least not worse than it is right now. But it sounds like it could improve overall conditions with extended turn lanes and signalization.”

D’Amico said VHB is responding to the needs during school hours but also after hours for access to playgrounds and other things.

“There is a sidewalk from Hayden Rowe to the front door of Elmwood and from Elmwood to Marathon. There is a lot of linear footage of sidewalks that I don’t want to go unnoticed,” D’Amico said.

Schematic site plan reductions mentioned

Although the traffic plan is expected to dominate the public forum on Wednesday, participants also will see the schematic site plan.

Robert Bell, Perkins Eastman’s educational programmer/principal, said his group has reduced outdoor learning spaces to three based on feedback at the last meeting. Architects have continued to tighten loop roads on the campus, made a small change to the cafeteria stage, adjusted stairwells and tightened up other spaces by altering the angles of wings in order to cut square footage and reduce costs.

ESBC chair Jon Graziano said every tweak to the design is made to cut costs but maintain “efficient design to support the educational model.”

D’Amico said on July 12 architects would “put pencils down” and obtain two estimates for the schematic plan, which represents 30 percent of the total design. In August, the group will present and adjust numbers with submission to the state expected at the end of August.

A Special Town Meeting is anticipated in November.

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