Quaker Valley School Board plans to vote next week on whether to move forward on a $150,000 property purchase near the high school as well as a new traffic study.
The home at 706 Beaver St. would be the second to go under agreement with the district in recent months following the February purchase of 704 Beaver St. for $250,000.
As part of the district's plan, three houses closest to the school are being sought to construct a separate student pick-up and drop-off area and a 64-space parking lot, according to architectural renderings. Property closest to the school, the largest and most key of the three, remains in negotiations.
School officials have said the property purchases are part of plans to alleviate growing traffic and student safety issues at the high school.
Linda Vaccaro of Sewickley told the board Tuesday night that she doesn't blame the property owners for wanting to sell, but feels the district is using her tax dollars to destroy a neighborhood.
"Leetsdale does not want to lose residential property for a parking lot," said Vaccaro, who owns property in Leetsdale.
School Director David Pusateri said this isn't the first time Quaker Valley has purchased property for school construction purposes, pointing out Edgeworth Elementary as an example. He said the district has worked to keep elementary and middle school student pedestrians separate from buses and cars, and has an obligation to provide the same safety standards at the high school.
If the traffic study is approved, the $24,410 contract with Pittsburgh-based David E. Wooster and Associates Inc. would look at the high school’s various options.
Joseph Marrone, director of administrative services, said administrators and Leetsdale residents met two weeks ago with the traffic engineer to discuss other options that could be incorporated into the study. Options added from both sides changed the scope of the study and increased costs by about $8,000, school officials said.
John Kroeck, who lives on Beaver Street across from the school drop off, said he attended the meeting and has a "bad feeling" the study will be impartial to the district, adding that the engineer referred to the district’s plan several times as “the solution.”
“He’s not neutral. You’re paying him, he’s in your pocket and he’s going to tell you what you want to hear,” Kroeck said.
District Judge Robert Ford of Beaver Street agreed, adding that the majority of his suggestions appeared to be disregarded from the start.
“I was pretty surprised that he shot everything down,” Ford said.
Marrone said Wooster performed previous traffic studies for both elementary schools, and the company analyzes traffic patterns to come up with solutions.
Vaccaro asked if school officials could produce the old traffic studies to possibly save money on a new one.
But Board president Jack Norris said the idea is to have a new study to produce an updated report. Norris said Wooster and Associates are highly regarded, professional traffic engineers who have worked for many municipalities. He said the study will look at everything from turn radiuses to driveway measurements, to demonstrate which options work best.
"It will all be there to look at," Norris said.
Pusateri said now is the best time to perform a study, with senior night, prom and other school events coming up. After June 6, when school is over for the year, he said everything will be quiet until September.
Traffic study costs would be paid from the bond issue fund.
While school officials seem to agree that the three properties in the 700 block would provide the best possible layout to fixing their problem, residents say there are cheaper solutions. They also fear that future plans could involve taking out the rest of the neighborhood and, at the very least, lower the property values of remaining homes.
Kroeck said the board's "predatory" actions have essentially rendered the homes in the 700 block worthless while Norris blamed newspaper articles, public discussion and neighborhood signs for having a chilling affect on any of the three homeowners' interested in selling their properties.
"You have a family that wants to sell, they have a very elderly person in their house...they cannot do it because of the cloud over their property from these discussions and this activity," Norris said.
Resident Gina Mercurio does want to sell her home, the ninth and last on the block, but said she cannot because there's a cloud. She offered the district a chance to buy her house, but board members stressed they only want to purchase the three.
“There’s no interest in going further – there is no cloud,” Pusateri said.