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Traffic Fix Pits Parking Vs. Preservation
by Allan Appel | Aug 13, 2013 11:04 am
Posted to: Schools, The Heights
To address a dangerous traffic problem at Quinnipiac Elementary School, city officials floated a possible solution that involves tearing down a 19th-century building that housed the east side’s very first school.
That potential trade-off emerged at a community meeting that drew two dozen neighbors Monday night to the little K-3 Quinnipiac School. The school is nestled and almost hidden between Runo Terrace on the north and Lexington Terrace on the south, on a bluff overlooking Quinnipiac Avenue.
Charles Dippold Jr., who’s 43 now and and with his dad owns R & R Fencing on Runo Terrace, went to school at Quinnipiac Elementary. He said at Monday night’s meeting that traffic has been a nightmare all his life. It’s particularly bad between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning. Dippold called the traffic situation a “nightmare.”
All that could change if an idea presented Monday night by city officials Will Clark and Bill MacMullen take hold.
Clark, the city school system’s chief operating officer, convened the meeting to unveil the idea that he has been developing with MacMullen, the city’s chief engineer for capital projects. After extensive discussion about the trade-offs, neighbors like Dippold gave the idea the thumbs up.
Runo Terrace is a narrow street, more of an alleyway whose dimensions are fit for a horse and carriage; it’s at the heart of an enclave almost lost in time in modern New Haven. The houses, along a single dog-leg of a street up from Quinnipiac Avenue and backing into Fairmont Park, are trim and modest, so close together families can practically smell each other’s dinners.
For decades neighbors have complained about traffic hazards for themselves and for the families of the 350 young kids who arrive at school by car or bus at the steeply graded and unlaned traffic circle on Lexington Terrace.
That’s on the south side of the school, accessible from Clifton, and cheek by jowl with the school’s only recreation area, an outdated set of swings hung on heavy metal poles.
Because traffic jams up at the roundabout, stressed parents are often instead tearing in their cars up Runo Terrace, a narrow, 19th century driveway-size street, precipitously steep in winter, not big enough for sidewalks.
Several neighbors at the meeting described cars and delivery trucks careening into neighbors’ fences as drivers take a=the dog-leg turn right into the tiny parking lot of the school or dangerously back up to go back down.
How to fix it?
Will Clark’s plan was triggered when he noticed two houses for sale on Runo Terrace.
If the Board of Ed can purchase those houses and then tear them down, it could put the school’s parking lot there, right to the border of adjacent Fairmont Park. It would be able to hold 60 cars, not the present 43.
The current jammed parking lot, with inadequate turnaround space, would be vacated. It would become a proper playground, eliminating the dangerous play area at the Lexington roundabout and bringing the kids’ play behind the school, with more security and supervision.
That would free up the south side for a regrading and relaning of the traffic circle, with a dedicated lane for buses and one for parents dropping off kids. The new circle would be the occasion for enforcing an orderly procedure so that parents will no longer feel the need—and will not be allowed—to take the Runo Terrace back way in.
MacMullen (pictured) said the project would cost about a half-million dollars. It would would not affect the current school building; officials plan a renovation of that building down the road as one of the final projects in the citywide school construction program.
Clark called the Runo Terrace plan a “win-win.” Although neighbors had questions—about lighting, landscaping, potential bad uses of the new lot, and whether on weekends a new parking lot would be overwhelmed with people using Fairmont Park—they were generally receptive. Those design concern, along with permission to purchase the properties, would all have to go through numerous government approvals.
Carla Korrick, the owner of 3 Runo Terrace, the building that in the mid-19th century housed the area’s first school, said she is prepared to sell her house to the Board of Ed. The owner of the second property was also in attendance at the meeting.
Barbara Ginger, whose house is next to Korrick’s, seemed receptive to the ideas presented. She called for speed bumps to be put in and sidewalks and signage among other changes.
Clark and MacMullen noted that the Board of Ed doesn’t handle those traffic matters. They suggested, though, that the plan could lead to a broader coordinated set of traffic-calming changes in conjunction with the city.
Clark thanked audience members for bringing up sidewalks. “We hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
Clark said the entire plan hinges on the Board of Ed purchasing both properties, 3 and 10 Runo Terrace. If the plan gathers momentum, his next step would be to locate the money to buy them at fair market rates. Officials have no intention of using eminent domain there, he said.
DiFazio Wanted to Save the Schoolhouse
The plan was a bittersweet solution for Garrett DiFazio (pictured), who lives across from Number 3 Runo Terrace. The owner of a company that renovates historic buildings, he said he wanted to purchase the building and rehab it to look the way it did in the mid-19th century.
He pointed out the pediment that remains and the framing. “All you have to do is rip off that front,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for me because I was planing on buying and restoring the old school house. I financed my house to rescue the school,” he said.
It was DiFazio’s and his wife’s way to help secure the neighborhood from an ugly development going in.
That won’t happen now if the Clark/MacMullen plan becomes a reality.
“No one wants to be surrounded by a parking lot,” DeFazio said. On the other hand, he said. the plan could help solve flooding and drainage problems stemming from the current back parking lot of the school that abuts his property. The new playground be adjacent to his property.
“I’m not going to fight the city,” said his wife, Erin DiFazio, as she nursed their 5-month old baby.
Quinnipiac Principal Grace Nathman, who’s been at the school a year, said she spends a lot of time running from front to back of the school directing traffic and worrying if a kid is going to be hit by a racing or impatient driver.
“Any plan that will make it safe for delivery and pick up of children [I support]. This is great. I [also] want to put speed bumps and signs,” she added.
Clark estimated that work could start on the project as early as this winter if several “if"s fall into place—if community support continues; if the Board of Ed can find the money to purchase the properties; and if the Board of Aldermen gives its OK.
Would an historic building be lost in the process?
“To my knowledge [the original school building] not on any historic list,” said MacMullen.
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Turn two houses into a parking lot, one more brilliant way that New Haven is increasing the Grand List.
Fascinating story Allan. What is the deal with the Quinnipiac School? Is it a feeder to another school in the area? I don’t see it listed on the Tiering system published by the NHPS. Is it a magnet or one of the few NHPS neighborhood schools????? No information on its web site. And who designed that crazy modern building…..this begs investigation…...
The building needs to be rehabbed, and turned into the historical, educational resource it was meant to be.
No money in the school rebuilding budget for this one, huh?
But if you got rid of three high-priced administrator’s, this project would fund itself quickly, and have money left over for a caretaker.
posted by: Colin M. Caplan on August 13, 2013 2:25pm
Here’s a win-win: The City should buy the school, restore it, and use it as a clubhouse for neighborhood youth. Any takers?