Board advances plan to move school bus lot to Baron's South
The Board of Education is moving ahead with its plan to build a new school bus parking facility at the town-owned Baron's South property -- a proposal that could save the town about $250,000 annually.
In an unanimous vote Monday, the education board endorsed the submission of a pre-application for the plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission. If the P&Z approves the pre-app, the Board of Education would then submit a formal application to the P&Z for a bus parking complex that would include maintenance and fueling facilities.
"Baron's South appears to be the best option among town-owned sites," board members Elaine Whitney and Mark Mathias wrote in a June 11 status report to their board colleagues. "The operational feasibility and traffic impact of using this site for parking our school buses would be comparable to that of the current site."
Whitney and Mathias make up the Board of Education's bus parking subcommittee, which was formed in March to explore more economical bus parking options for the school district.
DATTCO Inc., the school district's New Britain-based transportation provider, pays about $250,000 each year in rent to house most of Westport's school bus fleet on a privately owned lot adjacent to a Mobil gas and service station on Post Road East. DATTCO then passes that cost on to the town.
By relocating its main bus parking complex to the municipally Baron's South, the school district would no longer have to pay a rent to house its fleet.
The section of Baron's South proposed for bus parking stands between a Sunoco gas station and a Fairfield County Bank branch on Post Road East, yards away from the school district's main lot on the same road. If it included all of the bus services proposed by the education board, the Baron's South site could total approximately 2.5 acres.
"It's gratifying to see this happening and to see us getting this close," Mathias said Monday. "It can continue to give us back a sizable chunk [of savings] on an annual basis."
Baron's South also comprises the site of a new senior residential community proposed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. Construction of a new bus parking center would not preclude the development of the senior complex at Baron's South.
Earlier in the year, the bus parking subcommittee had explored relocating the school district's fleet parking base to Staples High School. But the subcommittee concluded in its June 11 status report that the high school would not offer a viable venue because it would likely not be approved for fueling or maintenance operations and likely "negatively impact" the school's neighborhood "in terms of traffic and/or noise levels."
Relocation of the school district's bus fleet to a less costly site constitutes a longstanding goal of town officials. The proposed site at Baron's Site appears to have a strong chance of P&Z approval, with a number of Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting members also expressing their support for the plan.
"I think it's great that we're moving forward with this," said RTM member Allen Bomes, District 7. "Hopefully, we'll get something that will save the town money."
Board of Education members have also not ruled out relocating the school district's parking hub to another site such as the state Department of Transportation's operations and maintenance center at the intersection of Post Road East and the Sherwood Island Connector or Sherwood Island State Park. Those sites, however, have a "low probability" of being approved to accommodate the school district's buses, Whitney told the Westport News after Monday's meeting.
Education board members are targeting an opening date of a Baron's South school bus parking center in time for the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.
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