January 30, 2013 - Lindbergh Schools' recent purchase of 4.684 acres adjacent to Long Elementary School was "a major home run" in solving traffic-congestion problems at the school on Sappington Road, according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.
The district paid $850,000 for the property, which was sold by Richard and Dorothy Abeln, who have lived in the district for 57 years. The property will be for a parking lot, field space and an alternate entrance and exit for parents and buses.
The new entrance/exit will solve traffic-congestion problems that have existed for years at the school at 9021 Sappington Road, Simpson told the Call.
"... We've been needing that property for 20 years, but we really couldn't agree on price," he said. And it just came together (in 2012) that finally the Ablen family and the school district could see a price that both sides thought was fair.
"Our issue is that we have increased Long Elementary to 500 students. Before we did that, we were still suffering from issues with traffic congestion. It doesn't have the entrances it needs, the exits it needs. It doesn't have the parking lot it needs. Everything about it worked in 1960, but doesn't work now," Simpson said.
"Sappington Road is nothing like it was in 1960. It's a very congested and busy road — exactly when we're letting off and picking up. So when we go to school, it's congested. When we let out, it's congested."
The fact is, according to Simpson, is "it's unsafe ... Everyone realizes that. We do all we can to contain and make it as safe as we can, but we have way too many cars in way too small a space. So first and foremost on the Ablen property was we had to do what we could do to increase the safety of the 500 students at Long and their families.
"Secondly, we had to do what we could do to ease the congestion bottleneck — and that's what it is — at school start and school end — for the community because I know there's many people who get caught in that bottleneck … It's a major home run in addressing that issue. It will solve that issue, actually."
As proposed, the district plans to extend Doercrest Drive to Long Elementary, but the road extension will be gated, according to Simpson said.
"Doercrest was never intended to be a stubbed-off road. It always was thought the Ablen property would go residential or something else. In this case, it's going school," he said. "But we understand also, and I think this is very important for the people who live in the immediate Long Elementary area, this road that we're building to connect with Doercrest, if all goes well, will be gated. It is not a through road.
"In other words, no one should think of this road as we now have a named road that goes through. It's a private road. It's gated. And it will only be ungated when we have pickup and drop-off — and that is only about 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon. So in a way, the quietness of neighborhoods will be disturbed for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon as we bring the children in and take the children home. But the rest of time, weekends, nights, it's just like it is now. The gate will be closed — no traffic.
"We've been thinking a lot about the residents. We want to be good neighbors ..."
The property purchase also will provide more green space and physical education fields at the school, according to Simpson.
"... We need more PE (physical education) fields. With our bigger student population, we don't have enough green space. We need space for those students to get the fresh air, run on grass, play outdoor games and sports and physical exercise outside," the superintendent said.
"We're going to get two PE fields ... So we're going to have some significant new physical education area for the students to get the fresh air and the physical exercise they need, which is very important. That's one of the challenges for this generation of young children — they don't actually have an outdoor lifestyle," Simpson said.
"They're more like, 'Let's go in my house and play video games,' and we have to counter that by giving them the exercise they need now, but also instilling the natural love of being outside and enjoying running and playing and having fun in that way. So that's an excellent improvement for us — very much needed."
In addition, the new fields will ease the district's desperate need for additional practice fields for after-school and summer sports teams, Simpson said.
"So those PE fields after school, will just keep going, and they will be for the soccer practices, the Junior Flyer football practices, those kinds of things. We can use those fields all the time ...," he said.