20 Aug 2014
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Wenham Selectmen Consider Closing Section of School Street

Wenham Selectmen said Tuesday they want to talk with the police chief and fire chief before making a decision about whether to recommend closing a section of School Street near Buker Elementary School.

Wenham Selectmen Consider Closing Section of School Street

Wenham Selectmen have yet to decide whether to recommend closing off a section of School Street that runs just feet from the playground.

No decision was made when the Board of Selectmen met on Tuesday night and the board decided to resume a discussion about the proposal when it meets in late September.

Remington Road resident Michelle Bailey asked the Selectmen to consider closing a section of the street permanently because of safety concerns.

Already, a portion of School Street is closed during school hours on school days. When it is closed, a metal gate is closed to block off the northern end of the street that runs between the school and the playground, which is on the opposite side of the street from the school.

But Bailey said she is worried that children become accustomed to the road being closed during school hours and may forget that it is not closed after school or on weekends.

In addition, the playground in “extremely close to the road” and there’s a chance that a car could veer off the road and into the playground, Bailey said. Plus, when cars are parked along both sides of School Street during games at the neighboring field, it makes visibility even more difficult, she said.

Selectmen Chairman Molly Martins said that Fire Chief Bob Blanchard has concerns about increased response times to an emergency call in the area if a section of the street is closed.

“It could affect response time if they have to go around, depending which direction they are coming from,” Martins said.

Martins said Police Chief Ken Walsh is opposed to it but recommends that concerned parents work with police to make safety improvements to the area.

Neither chief was able to attend Tuesday night’s Selectmen’s meeting and Selectmen said that they want to continue its consideration of the closure at a September meeting when both chiefs can attend and take part in the discussion.

Martins said Bailey raised “valid concerns” but wants to also consider other measures that could address safety concerns that would fall short of closing a section of the street.

Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren said that speed bumps have been considered, but that Bill Tyack, director of the Highway Department, has raised concerns about maintenance and snow removal.

Martins also expressed concerns that closing a portion of School Street could set a precedent for other roads in town where residents may ask to have streets closed.

Chelgren also noted that this is not the first time town officials have considered a request to close off the same section of road.

“This is not an uncommon request,” he said.

Selectman John Clemenzi said town officials might want to consider adding a fence between the playground and the street. He also wants to hear more specific information about how dangerous it is to have the street remain open so close to the playground. He wants to hear about accidents, near-accidents or “mishaps” in the area.

“How serious in the safety issue?” Clemenzi asked. “Has anyone identified it?”

Page Sostek, a Perkins Street resident who lives near the intersection with School Street, said she is opposed to closing School Street.

Sostek said there are two other parks and two others schools in Hamilton and Wenham where there are playgrounds that are not near the street.

She is concerned about the way aggravated drivers may react as they come upon the closed street. Already, when it is closed, she sees them speed away on Perkins Street or back up to reverse direction, sometimes hitting her mailbox as they turn around.

Paul Weaver, Wenham’s town attorney, said that Selectmen have the power to alter or relocate a road but Town Meeting voters would have to approve “unaccepting” or abandoning a road.

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