By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
An ongoing Jefferson County road project may cause headaches for Gardendale school and public safety officials after school begins.
Mayor Kenny Clemons announced at Monday’s night’s Gardendale City Council meeting that Ash Avenue would likely be closed down three to four weeks after school begins on Aug. 13. The road is a major route of travel for students attending Gardendale Elementary and Bragg Middle schools.
After Ash Avenue is reopened, the county will then close and begin work on a portion of Bauers Lane, which is also heavily traveled during the school year.
The closings of the roads is a part of two other ongoing projects — the widening of Mt. Olive Road and the construction of a road connecting Mt. Olive and Odum Roads.
Clemons said he feared the road closings could cause delays of an hour to an hour-and-half for parents who want to deposit or pick up students at the schools.
He said he had hoped the county road department could delay the project until next summer, but a county road department official said waiting is not an option.
Alabama Department of Transportation engineer Wayne Sullivan said Ash Avenue has to be closed temporarily to move utilities and install retaining walls related to those projects. Bauers Lane will then be widened and tied in to the connector road.
Sullivan said he expected the entire project to be completed by spring.
“It’s just the way it’s fallen,” he said of the road closing timeline. “We’ve been held up for so long with the relocation of the utilities. We’ve had the contractor off the job while they finished up the relocation.”
To help alleviate any issues, the Gardendale Police Department has been working with school officials to help plan new routes to accommodate the traffic flow in and out of the schools.
Upon the closure of Ash Avenue, Police Chief Mike Walker said parents will drop off and pick up students in the “turnaround” of Bauers Lane. Elementary school students will have a short walk into the school.
Bragg Middle School students will walk south down the sidewalk through a construction tape-path to the rear of the middle school, where they can enter through the cafeteria.
Walker said parents should make sure to give middle school students a raincoat and umbrella on inclement weather days because it is about a 150-yard walk to the middle school from the drop-off point.
After Ash Avenue reopens, the county will close Bauers Lane where it meets Mt. Olive and Mitchell Hill roads.
The police department has devised a second traffic pattern that will have parents make a loop down Ash Avenue, around the middle school and back to the elementary school. Middle school students will be rerouted to the northern end of the loop and will walk across the elementary school playground to the front of Bragg Middle School.
Walker said parents will need to have children ready to get out of the vehicle when the car stops so traffic will not back up. He also advised that parents drop off students earlier and pick them up later than normal.
“People should be patient with our crossing guards,” he said. “It’s going to be easy to lose your temper.”
Bragg Middle School Principal Jeff Caufield said he and other school administrators were working on plans that would benefit both students and parents.
Last year, some students walked from the middle school to the parking lot of Gardendale First Baptist Church where they were picked up. He said he would like to continue that plan this year, though the route would change. Students would have to walk through the Gardendale Elementary School playground and cross at the crossing guard.
He said he would also encourage more children to ride the bus, but children who live within a two-mile radius of the school are not permitted to take the bus to school.
“We’ll have our plans finalized and laid out so people can be aware of how the traffic patterns will be,” he said.
By Adam Smith