No Bus for Stone Barn Village Middle and High School Students

Photo | Pam Schipper Urbana Middle School students take the wide sidewalk along Fingerboard Road toward home.

Photo | Pam Schipper
Urbana Middle School students take the wide sidewalk along Fingerboard Road toward home.

A handful of parents living in the new Stone Barn Village near Urbana Elementary at Sugarloaf were informed in early May that their secondary school students will no longer qualify for bus transportation to Urbana Middle School and Urbana High School for the 2019/2020 school year. Their homes are located near the 1.75-mile bus transportation limit.

According to the letter they received from Karen (Candy) Boynes, FCPS transportation manager, “bus transportation will no longer be provided to students residing in the Stone Barn Community that attend Urbana Middle School and Urbana High School.”

The letter continues, “Per BOE Policy 441, the non-transported area for secondary students is defined as a practical and direct walking route no longer than 1.75 miles. However, please note that a tenth of a mile may be added so that a street or cul-de-sac is not divided. Additionally, walking distances in contiguous areas may be extended at the superintendent’s discretion.”

FCPS Director of Transportation Fred Punturiero explained, “As the community develops, we look at infrastructure to determine if there is a safe walking route.”

Necessary infrastructure includes sidewalks, crosswalks and signalized intersections—now in place for the route from Stone Barn Village to Urbana secondary schools.

“This change meets the 1.85-mile policy. The non-transport area is a minimum 1.75-mile distance. We can add a tenth of a mile to this. Then the superintendent has the discretion to extend this further,” he noted.

For Stone Barn Village middle and high school students, he recommended crossing Stone Barn Drive and Urbana Pike at the crosswalks, continuing down Lew Wallace Street to turn right at Worthington Boulevard, taking Worthington on the south side of the street to the traffic light at John Simmons Street, crossing and continuing down Worthington on the north side to Fingerboard Road, turning left at Fingerboard andtaking the large sidewalk up Fingerboard Road to cross at the traffic light with Campus Drive or at the traffic light and crossing guard
intersection with Pontius Court.

At full build-out, Stone Barn Village will comprise 610 dwelling units.

Beth McKay, who has lived in Urbana for 16 years, until recently on Tavistock Road, drove the route from her address on Timber Green to the Fingerboard Road/Pontius Court Urbana Middle School intersection when her family moved into Stone Barn Village and discovered this distance is 1.75 miles. When she contacted FCPS Transportation, Boynes said she was eligible for the bus with the caveat that transportation decisions are re-evaluated year to year. McKay’s sixth-graders take the bus to Urbana Middle this year.

For Mary Eakin, “it’s 1.8 miles from my door to the middle school, and I’m on the closer end of Stone Barn Village.”

“The families closer to Sugarloaf Elementary are 2-plus miles,” she added. Both noted that nearby school systems—with one exception—have a secondary school transportation limit below FCPS’ 1.75-mile threshold. Howard County is 1 mile for middle school and 1.5 miles for high school, Carroll County is 1 mile, Washington County is 1 mile, Montgomery County is 1.5 miles for middle school students and 2 miles for high school students, Loudoun County, Virginia, is 1.25 miles and Fairfax County, Virginia, is 1.5 miles.

McKay, who has worked for Montgomery County Public Schools for 20 years, said she understands that school systems have a process and she wants to understand and respect that process. She is working to get clarification on traffic statistics, pedestrian safety in roundabouts, and timing for construction of the new light at Worthington Boulevard and Lew Wallace Street/Stone Barn Drive.

McKay said that FCPS Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo told her this traffic light will be installed and functioning before Urbana Elementary re-opens for the 2020-2021 school year.

“To me, that means the infrastructure is not in place (for 2019-2020) if the traffic study said a light was warranted and it is not installed,” McKay said.

She was surprised to learn that FCPS does not consult the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) on these transportation decisions. “I find this astounding as FCPS has declared the walking route now safe for students to walk, but the very people trained and in charge of keeping the public and the roads safe are never asked for their opinion,” she said.

When asked for comment, Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins told The Town Courier, “We are never consulted on these issues in regard to walking routes and school transportation. I have received a number of calls of concern regarding the traffic at the roundabouts, which in most cases have not met the criteria for crossing guards.

“I have advocated for years to bus all of the students in the VOU. One consequence of the broad walking radius is simply that parents are not going to make or allow their children to walk that far so they drop them at school, creating sometimes unmanageable traffic tie ups at the schools. Busing all students would go a long way in alleviating that problem.”

McKay is currently working on an appeal of the FCPS/Stone Barn Village transportation decision. If the appeal reaches step three in the process, Lebo can assemble an advisory committee and at that point the Sheriff’s Office may be invited into the discussion.

McKay does not think that cost played a part in this FCPS decision. There are approximately 20 students on her children’s bus, which draws from Araby Church Road and Ball Road, and “this year’s bus picks them up and drops them off on 355. The bus never enters the  community. We were told this was due to construction. The bus that picks them up is not overcrowded and has plenty of seats and will next year as well because its route is through the outskirts of Urbana. The bus drives right by Stone Barn Village on the way to the middle school. It stops at the one stop on 355, loads the students in under a minute, and continues on its route. … The additional stop is not adding any cost to the school system.”

Stone Barn Village walkers and bicyclists will be unique to the community, she noted. These students are the only ones expected to cross three major roadways—Urbana Pike, Worthington Boulevard and Fingerboard Road—to reach school.

Eakin, who enjoys walking throughout the community daily, noted that current and future construction will present a hazard to students along their route to school.

“Currently at John Simmons Street there is construction that prohibits pedestrians from walking straight up to (Route) 80 to cross. You can currently cross the street at John Simmons but there is construction coming that may block that path soon, forcing kids to cross at Lew Wallace.

“After 2020 when Urbana Elementary reopens (on Urbana Pike), the developers will be allowed to start construction on the land across from the library. It’s not safe for kids to walk long distances around so many construction sites,” she added.

The planned 75 townhouses for the open space along Worthington Boulevard, across the street from The Greene Turtle and Urbana Regional Library, should bring 30 elementary, 10 middle and 11 high school students to Urbana schools, according to FCPS calculations.

Eakin started a petition in early May—Buses for Urbana Kids—at www.change.org, asking Superintendent Theresa Alban “to reconsider her order extending the distance Urbana children have to walk to school.” To date, 334 people have signed. Vanessa Branch is one of those people. Her children travel 1.6 miles from South Sprigg Street to and from Urbana Middle School. South Sprigg Street connects Urbana Pike to Worthington Boulevard, outside of Stone Barn Village and near the Urbana Volunteer Fire Department.

Branch, who likes the idea of her kids walking to school, said that she doesn’t agree with the distance and the route her children must travel. “The potential hazards that my children face are speeding vehicles that do not stop for pedestrians at crosswalks. Also, during the winter months they could possibly experience frostbite. And during the warmer months, they would possibly experience heat exhaustion. My biggest concern is (them) getting hit by a car. There have been incidents where cars are driving so fast that they end up on the sidewalks.”

Branch suggested adding more crossing guards or increased police presence “where children must cross the street. I would suggest the traffic circles.” She also supports more four-way stop signs in the neighborhood.

“No one in our neighborhood will let the kids walk,” McKay said. “It’s just too far. And not every kid rides a bike or has an iPhone.”

And that may place more stress on already busy drop-off and pick-up times at Urbana Middle and Urbana High. “The middle school pickup line is a parking lot in the afternoon,” Eakin said. “I’ve gotten in line almost an hour early and still not been in the front. If I don’t get there early, I worry I won’t be able to make it back to the elementary to pick up my other child on time. Pick up and drop offs are only going to get worse with all the houses being built that don’t get
bus service.”

According to Punturiero, 376 students currently are eligible for transportation to Urbana Middle, and 872 to Urbana High.

These students are bussed from throughout the Urbana schools feeder areas and include students from Windsor Knolls, Green Valley, Sugarloaf and parts of Mount Airy.

The planned YMCA recreation facility on Fingerboard Road, located between Urbana High and Urbana Middle, will use an improved joint/common entrance at Campus Drive and Fingerboard Road as its main access. The State Highway Administration would not approve another entrance on Route 80/Fingerboard Road directly into the YMCA property.

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