Elementary Impacts: Road Clearing Disrupts School Operations

Trees piled for burning near West End Elementary School on March 16, 2023. Maggie Beamguard/SLI


Insider Editor

The project to widen N.C. 211 from two lanes to a four-lane divided highway will have significant impact on the the students, parents, teachers and staff of West End Elementary School.

The trees along the school’s frontage started coming down at the end of March. Although school administration long anticipated the start of the road work, they were caught off guard when clearing started the day before a community Books and Basketball event. Anticipating a crowd, they scrambled. Principal Katie Lockamy said officials with the Department of Transportation worked with them to ensure parking would be available.

“They were great. They moved everything out so we could park.”

Additionally, the DOT responded to concerns about the burn piles originally located by the playground. “The original plan was to burn right there because the piles were within their burning permit.”

Piles have to be 500 feet from the front doors of the property. “We were concerned about those piles being so close to our playground, and they were very gracious. They didn’t have to, but they moved them further away.”

Road closures were expected as the trees directly beside the road were felled. According to Lockamy, the DOT hoped to do some of that work during spring break to minimize the impact on school traffic. Lockamy expects that the school flag pole and marquee will soon be taken down.

Lockamy, who joined WEE’s administration last summer, has made safety a top priority for the open campus.

“First and foremost, the safety of our students is our priority. So whatever we have control over, we’re going to make sure that our process and procedures are the safest we can provide,” she said.

With the school set to lose about 30 percent of its front yard, administrators are making adjustments to activities and traffic flow. Students will no longer travel in front of the school and fire drills and other school events typically held on the front lawn will be oriented to the back of the school.

The road project will claim parking spots near the mobile units and the adjacent gravel lot. A group of community volunteers will work with the school to transform a tennis court in current disrepair into around 60-70 new parking spots.

Increased traffic noise, especially for mobile units is also a cause for concern.

“It’s noisy when you’re in there now,” said Lockamy, “and knowing that the road is going to be that much closer – I think that is our staff’s biggest concern – what is it going to sound like? What is it going to feel like?”

With the answers to those questions unknown at this time, Lockamy remains committed to ensuring the students’ safety.

“We’ll continue to focus on what is within our locus of control. We’re going to shore up those processes as much as we can,” she said. 

And she anticipates the continued support of the district. “The district is working with me very well. They are listening to our concerns, and they are just as committed to making sure that this is as safe a campus as possible.” 

The road project is years from being completed and long term plans for the road-front school are yet to be settled by the Board of Education and DOT.

The DOT offered $180,000 for the property. As of last fall, the school board said in a statement that this amount “does not represent an adequate value for the property, nor does it consider student and school safety concerns such as protective barriers needed for the school.”

School officials are continuing to pursue more money in court.

Contact Maggie Beamguard at maggie@thepilot.com.