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For the week of May 8 - 14, 2002


Bus barn issue incites more furor

Neighbors protest proposed site near high school

Express Staff Writer

The much needed bus barn facility for use by the Blaine County School District continues to be a hot button topic.

Looking north from the present site of the proposed bus barn, the existing school and the Woodside neighborhood are seen in the distance. The land fill was put there temporarily and is not part of any plan, said Jim Lewis, school district superintendent. If the bus barn is not approved for this site, it will be turned into a practice field for the high school. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Various Hailey residents protested the previously proposed site in Croy Canyon as being inappropriate. Several other locations were researched and found wanting because of space, traffic convenience and cost considerations.

Now, the school district is back to square one. It presented a plan to the public April 30 for a facility to be placed on the property of the new high school, where it was originally slated to be built. The proposed bus barn location has been moved from the north side of the high school to a new site south of the school, bordering a Woodside neighborhood. A four-acre lot has already been cleared and mounds of land fill is sitting it.

Members of the public who gathered at the Wood River Middle School voiced concern about a variety of subjects after a presentation by District Superintendent Jim Lewis.

"It feels like the meeting is to determine opposition rather than hold a public hearing," said Steve Keefer, one of the dissenting Woodside residents.

The planned bus barn has not been approved, but there is a sense that preparations had already moved on to the next stage. In particular, Keefer said that the public had been left out of the planning stage. "The appearance is that decisions have been made without the publicís input."

Lewis denied that the district had done anything in secrecy.

Several Woodside residents said they are concerned about diesel fumes from idling buses, noise and safety. And they contend that the facility belongs in a light industrial area and not a neighborhood.

The Woodside neighborhood in question has crept closer to the school as more houses have been built in the past few years. One house on Green Valley Drive even looks as if its part of the school, since it is so close to it and to the acreage in question. Buses already use Green Valley Drive to reach the high school because the construction on the new school started up again this spring and blocked off the old entrance on Fox Acre Road.

Lewis said the four-acre lot had been leveled not to build on, but to ready it for either a field or the bus barn, if approved. Land fill had been dumped there a couple weeks ago erroneously. Lewis said that it was "not intended for that location. If that put our integrity on the line, we apologize."

The proposed building would house not only the services and maintenance for the districtís transportation depot, but would incorporate the schoolís science wing as well. Speech pathology, therapy, language and other student services, computer services, and food services would also be under this one roof.

"It is customary in school districts to have the facilities next to schools," said Lewis.

The design, which Lewis displayed to the audience, showed the main service building up against the hillside just south of the current school. Perpendicular to it is a bus barn separated from the neighborhood to the west by a large berm, trees and a 300-foot greenspace, allowing for separation between the neighborhood and the facility. Lewis said that this is the most efficient design, and provides adequate space for growth.

He stressed that the countyís schoolchildren population is growing yearly by more than 3 percent, or about 100 children. At that growth rate, the equivalent of a new school would need to be built every four years. "Thatís a hard thing for this valley to accept, because weíve never had to do it before," Lewis said. However, Blaine Countyís total population has grown 40 percent in the past 10 years.

Indeed, there is a neighborhood school public meeting 7 p.m. tonight at the Hailey Elementary School. A Woodside Elementary School is slated to be erected on already existing school land. One advantage to having neighborhood schools would be to diminish the need for more school buses, Lewis pointed out.

At one time, neighbors objected also to the Wood River Middle School being built on its current site in north Hailey. Lewis contends he has met with opposition for every building project. "Itís part of my job."

The new bus barn site meets the criteria in a number of ways, Lewis said. The school has been on the site for 27 years, so the neighbors should be fairly accustomed to it. In fact, most of the homes surrounding it were not even built when the school was first erected. The bus facility, except for the north-south location change, was in the levy, which the taxpayers passed. Itís close to the epicenter of the population of school children. It wonít affect traffic the way a new site would, because 16 of the 17 bus routes already go to the high school. And a traffic controlling stop light is being erected at Fox Acre and Highway 75.

This planís $1.2 million price tag is the least expensive on the books. Other plans would cost at least 50 percent more because of fuel and payroll, cost of land and other infrastructure necessary to maintain an off-site facility.

But Woodside resident Becky Keefer said "This is not a neighborhood issue, but a land issue." She and her neighbors contend the bus barn should be in a light industrial area, no matter the added costs. Some sites suggested, and researched by the school district are Airport West, the Woodside Light Industrial area, the Coors plant, Glendale Road and Ohio Gulch.

"Weíd like to make this a win/win with your input," Lewis said.

But residents of the Woodside area remain adamant that they were not informed previous to decisions on design, location and land being cleared. Another public meeting was scheduled for May 7 at the middle school.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.