A new bus pickup and drop-off route on La Grande School District property for Central Elementary School students is almost finished.

The route, discussed at Wednesday’s La Grande School Board meeting, calls for buses to pick up and drop off students at the north edge of the Central playground where its staff parking lot is. Bus drivers will reach the parking lot by turning south off K Avenue between the new tennis courts and the high school, and then proceed south about 150 yards before turning east where the school’s greenhouses and wood shop are and traveling about 200 yards east to Central’s north parking lot.

In 2017-18, the new Central Elementary’s first year of operation, unloading and loading of students was conducted on Second Street between K and H avenues, a safe and easily accessible loading zone for students, according to School District Superintendent George Mendoza. However, the area is a public right-of-way, where city land use codes state that school buses are not allowed to load and unload students. The new school had technically been in violation of the land use codes since it opened.

The new pickup and drop-off site and route is on school district property, and there is no issue involving city codes.

Mendoza is encouraged with how work on the route has gone.

“We have a good plan. We are hoping for the best. Our focus is on safety,” Mendoza said.

A community member told the board Wednesday that he is worried that the route’s lane will not be wide enough for school buses to safely pass through. Mendoza told The Observer Thursday a test drive of a school bus on the 350-yard route that morning indicated space is not an issue.

“There is lots of space to spare,” Mendoza said of the test drive, which had been scheduled prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

Concern was also expressed at the board meeting about the vulnerability of a transformer on a platform along the route. Joseph Waite, the school district’s bond and facilities manager, said this will not be a problem because a bus would have to jump a low curb to make contact. Waite said buses will be traveling between 5 and 10 miles per hour on the route and that a bus would have to be traveling at least 35 miles per hour in order to be at risk of hitting the transformer.

Steps taken to prepare the bus route include adding signs, removing structures around a turn and paving the last 200 yards of the route have been taken.

Mendoza said on Thursday school district staff will be assigned the responsibility of supervising the bus route when students are being dropped off and picked up.

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.

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