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Safety Concerns and Tradition Collide at Waynewood

Proposed New Driveway at Heart of Controversy

The process seemed simple enough. A few months ago, some parents at Waynewood Elementary School asked Isis Castro, chairman of the Fairfax County School Board, to look into safety concerns at the school.

She agreed and asked Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Gordon Lawrence, coordinator, safety and health, Fairfax County Public Schools, to come out to the school to determine whether there were safety issues with the school's kiss-and-ride area. They found that there were significant safety issues, including the disembarking of students from the street side of the car, parents double-parking to drop off students, and parents driving into the parking lot intended only for school buses.

The safety staff concluded that the best solution was to install a circular kiss-and-ride driveway in front of the school. Plans were drawn up and presented to Nancy Coughlan, principal of Waynewood. She reviewed them and in turn posted them in the office and presented the information in the "Owl Times," Waynewood's weekly newsletter.

In a letter written for publication in the Waynewood Civic Association's newsletter, Coughlan said, "The safety of the kiss-and-ride area has been a particular concern for a number of years. Prior to my arrival at Waynewood in 1999, the Waynewood PTA, because of this concern, researched the possibility of adding a circular drive in front of school. When the PTA learned the cost associated with the addition of a drive, they determined that they did not have the funds to pursue it.

"Kiss and ride continues to be the safety concern most often shared with me by both Waynewood staff and parents. A few months ago, Isis Castro, our Fairfax County school board representative, phoned me. She told me that Waynewood parents contacted her to express concern about the safety of our kiss-and-ride area. I shared this information with Waynewood parents through our weekly newsletter, Owl Times. We arranged a time for her to come to Waynewood, view our kiss-and-ride process, and meet with Gordon Lawrence from the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Risk Management Office, a Safety Committee PTA representative, and me. Approximately a month and a half ago, Mrs. Castro contacted me to tell me that for the safety of Waynewood students, FCPS would add a circular drive in front of our school. I again shared this news with parents through the Owl Times.”

SAFETY IS NOT A NEW ISSUE. Several years ago the school administration and the PTA raised concerns about the safety of the kiss-and-ride area. Tistadt said, "Safety staff looked into the situation and agreed that a problem existed. After looking at various options, staff recommended construction of the kiss-and-ride loop in front of the school. Funding was not available, however, and the project never went forward for that reason."

Tistadt continued, "As our concerns about kiss-and-ride safety have increased over the past several years, projects like that at Waynewood rose on our priority list for consideration for the use of our safety funds. Isis Castro has been an advocate for the school and for staff taking action to deal with this situation. This year, we were able to identify the necessary funding, and the project was ready to proceed."

Sally Smith was Waynewood's PTA president during that time and said, "Five years ago, when I first complained about the unsafe conditions in front of the school, I was told to forget about a circular driveway. It was too expensive. Today I am heartened that the county does not feel that the price is too great where safety is concerned. I wish I had taken it to this level. I hope that a safe resolution for all children can be found, because in my heart, there's an accident waiting to happen in front of the school."

Peggy Frydenlund, current PTA president, said that she can't speak for the entire school but stated, "It has come to the attention of the Waynewood PTA that the county has determined to build a circular driveway at Waynewood Elementary School. The PTA has been informed that the decision to build this driveway was made after county representatives and School Board officials visited Waynewood and observed safety issues at the current kiss-and-ride drop-off area It is part of the PTA's mission to help secure adequate laws for the care and protection of children and youth (Article III [c] in the Bylaws). The Waynewood PTA encourages all interested parties to contact the appropriate county officials and express their views on this important safety issue."

IT ALL SEEMED TO MAKE SENSE, yet when some parents started to review the plans, they realized that there were too many things that they didn't like or understand. The building of the driveway would dramatically affect the composition of a school where parents now wait for their children on the spacious front lawn.

Parents felt that they hadn't been involved in the planning, so they drafted a petition protesting the driveway and asked to meet with Isis Castro to view their concerns. A small private meeting ensued, and then Castro suggested that a public meeting with the safety people would be an appropriate forum for parents to discuss the issues.

About 75 parents showed up at Waynewood last week for a meeting with Castro, Tistadt, Lawrence and Lewis Rauch, director, Office of Design and Construction Services. A hand-out summarized some of the safety, security and traffic concerns parents have with the current design.

The plan appears to cause more safety problems than it resolves. Waynewood's large proportion of walkers and parents who meet their children after school does not appear to have been taken into account in this design. More than 50 percent of Waynewood students (more than 300) walk or use the kiss and ride. In most schools, 10-20 percent of the students walk to use the kiss and ride.

With that in hand, Castro opened the meeting by explaining how this all came about, and then Tistadt explained the rationale behind the circular driveway and why he believed it would help resolve the problems of safety as well as congestion on Waynewood Boulevard.

And then the questions began.

"What's to keep parents from not going into the traffic loop?" "Nothing," was the answer.

"What about a parallel merge lane [instead of a driveway]?"

"We looked into it and we were limited with what we can do."

"Can't we get police to have sustained presence and ticket parents?" "It's too hard to have police there all the time."

"It's a behavioral problem, can't we get somebody to monitor the situation?"

"That has already been tried."

"How much will this cost?"

"$120,000."

"Have you looked at the possibility of a loop on Potomac Lane (the rear of the school)?"

"The ball fields are back there."

"Won't this create new safety issues and cause a huge bottleneck even with the loop?" Sue McConville asked, "Where will the children go?" citing concerns that the 350 walkers who are now used to walking out onto an open front lawn will instead walk out onto a driveway full of cars.

"It upsets us that the plan wasn't discussed," she said.

JULIE GRADY HAS had children at Waynewood consecutively since 1993 and said that the kiss and ride has always been this way. "We don't need more pavement, we need that grassy lawn," she said. Later Grady said, "I think the meeting showed strong community turnout, but most people seemed opposed to the circular driveway. There was not much information shared with the community prior to the meeting and I think most people wanted more information than was presented."

Cathy McPeek mentioned how well the staff runs Carl Sandburg's kiss and ride but was told that the Waynewood staff has no authority on Waynewood Boulevard.

And so it went. Gordon and Tistadt tried to address as many of the concerns as they could, but in the end, the question "Is this something that can be changed?" received the answer parents were hoping to hear. Tistadt said that he would agree to have a group of parents and administration revisit the situation to see if there was perhaps another solution.

However, he said, "Kiss and ride has been a priority for me. This [the driveway] is what we thought would work. I will not walk away from it." He also said to the group, "I would not discount the knowledge and expertise we have."

Tammy Mannarino, one of the parents who have been actively involved, said, "I think it's the best possible outcome we could get from the meeting, that they're willing to listen to us and step back from the design and start fresh. I'm just not sure if they'll step back all the way."

A date for the re-evaluation meeting has been tentatively set for Feb. 6 and will consist of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) representatives, Fairfax County Police representatives, Fairfax County Public School staff and parents from both sides of the issue.

An e-mail address has been established for parents and community members who want to share their comments and concerns. The address is: WaynewoodKissandRide@fcps.edu.