Mercey school has green light to open in fall

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comFebruary 22, 2013 

The Los Banos Unified School District has received preliminary permission to open its newest elementary school before a traffic light is installed.

"The last contact I had from Caltrans was (with) the assistant director. She said, 'Based on the addendum we received, we don't believe we're going to require a stoplight when you open. We want to talk about the future,' " Superintendent Steve Tietjen said. "That was good news."

The Los Banos Unified School District had asked the California Department of Transportation to let Mercey Springs Elementary School open before a traffic signal was completed. The school is near Scripps Drive and Highway 165. Initially, Caltrans had said no, indicating that the school would cause extra traffic on the highway.

The district's recently revised traffic study emphasizes that the facility will be a College Greens neighborhood school with the vast majority of students in the attendance boundary living east of Highway 165 and south of Highway 152, therefore not adding to highway traffic. Students living in apartments on Gilbert Gonzalez Jr. Drive will be taken by bus to the new campus.

A traffic light could cost the district $600,000. The district is continuing to pursue federal grants to pay for it, but the money will not be available before the school's scheduled opening.

Chase Hurley, school board president, said he's concerned about the high school students who cross the highway intersection on their way to class.

"To me, other than the occasional jogger moving back and forth, those are kids. I don't care if it's because they have high school over there or who put in the pavement, those are kids," Hurley said. "If it's a million dollar stoplight or a two million dollar stoplight, that's going to be inconsequential. We don't want to be sitting here with a lawsuit, and irregardless of that, knowing somebody got hit."

In a compromise last year, Caltrans proposed a pedestrian-operated red signal known as a "hawk light." The hawk light is estimated to cost $200,000.

Based on district surveys of parents, the kindergarten through sixth-grade school will open with some 360 children. The 10 acres of land it sits on is big enough for the school to have a student population of 800.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanosenterprise.com.

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