What is in our
self-interest, after all?
by ADAM TANOUS
students of The Community School are no doubt benefiting from the
increasingly stormy, post-modern civics class of which they are both
subject and object.
else becomes of the Sagewillow campus plan—an elementary school
eventually servicing 230 students on 30 acres of donated land in Elkhorn—
the students have learned to participate in the public debate and have
learned that such debates sometimes take place on several levels, some
less apparent than others. They have written pointed letters to the editor
and have made their presence known at public meetings. The valley is
better for it and will be for the years to come as those young people
continue to contribute to the public discourse on other issues. It is
seemingly only a by-product of the heated debate, but one that may, in
fact, be at the core of the decision before the Sun Valley Planning and
As is often
the case, technical issues will likely be what is fought over, even though
a bigger question looms in the background. But first the technical
most often cited and obviously anticipated by The Community School are
traffic, noise and safety.
traffic, two intersections are at issue: Morningstar Road at Elkhorn Road
and Morningstar at Arrowleaf Road. Traffic engineer Mike Riggs estimated
that at the former the average wait is currently 9.7 seconds. By 2013, the
completion date of the project’s final phase, the wait would be 10.8. At
Arrowleaf the wait would go from 8.5 seconds to 9.4 seconds.
In my view
this is a negligible change, a second here and there. Opponents of the
project will likely term this an 11 percent increase, which it is, but
that’s just word play.
more of an issue. The Community School hired an independent firm—Yantis
Associates in Seattle—to evaluate the present and future noise levels in
an effort to quantify the impact of the school. Yantis, in his report,
assumed 40 to 45 decibels (dBA) as his baseline ambient noise intensity.
He predicted playground noise to be a maximum of 48 dBA, soccer game noise
to be 61 dBA and traffic noise to go to 55 dBA—all values were
calculated at the point of the nearest neighbor.
all sorts of games people, pro and con, can play with these numbers. It
should be noted that this is a logarithmic scale. A 5 dBA change
represents noise three times as intense; noise 10 dBA greater than the
baseline represents a 10 fold increase and a 20 dBA change corresponds to
a 100 fold increase. So the changes cited in the study are not trivial.
The area will be significantly noisier, at least, at the point of the
other complications of the noise issue that make for rhetorical quicksand.
One is the fact that noise intensity falls off with the distance from the
source squared. In other words, the sound dissipates very quickly as one
moves away from the source. A second point to consider is not all noises
are created equal. We are talking about the noise of children playing and
laughing, not idling Harleys.
technical issue as stated by the Sun Valley Elkhorn Association is that
" … the use will unreasonably diminish the safety and welfare of
the community …" It is hard to fathom how an elementary school
might pose such a risk. In some letters to the editor, opponents have
predicted that the cars lining up to pick up kids will block the entrance
to the fire station on Arrowleaf Road. To my mind, that’s a silly
argument. Neither the fire department nor the police department would ever
let it happen.
no doubt other issues swirling below the surface. Are people worried about
property values? Perhaps, but the reality is schools, especially
relatively costly private schools, generally make a neighborhood more
attractive and, hence, valuable.
also be a resistance to change, in general. And why not? Neighbors of the
Sagewillow property have a pretty nice situation right now—30 acres lie
dormant and silent. Even more than 30 acres, actually, because the Dumke
family—the family who gifted the property to the school—has several
other undeveloped lots adjacent to the proposed school.
Some in the
pro school camp have made a point of disparaging the opponents with the
pejorative term NIMBY, as if voicing one’s self-interest were a shameful
thing. Hardly. It’s the whole premise of democracy and free market
economics. Adding up all those self-interests we get the aggregate voice
of our community.
the greater question becomes: What is in our self-interest? What kind of
community do we want to build and maintain?
opponents to the school plan don’t want a school, but that decision
needs to be made in a context. It seems highly unlikely that land will
remain essentially dormant. There is a whole spectrum of other long-term
possibilities that opponents ought to consider before deciding an
elementary school is not in their self-interest. The valley needs a lot of
things. In place of a school there could be affordable housing, an animal
shelter, 120 town homes, a bus barn, skateboard park, senior center or a
commuter parking lot. Something will go in there; a school seems like
something relatively innocuous that the entire community benefits from,
whether directly or indirectly.
Sagewillow neighbors lose is a little quiet. What they gain is a vibrant
community filling in from below. A school does require a little
accommodation on the part of all of us, not just by the neighbors. But
then, someone no doubt accommodated us when we were young. And, who knows,
one of those little students might change the world. Stranger things have
is no different from a family; the bonds are just stretched a little
farther and wider. And as any parent will attest; the noise and commotion
of kids can drive you crazy. But then, when all that sound and fury fades
for one reason or another, it drives you even crazier.