HAYDEN — Lakes Highway District commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday to begin drawing up an agreement that could open the door to a new elementary school on Prairie Avenue for Coeur d’Alene School District.
The agreement would shape traffic flow, with an emphasis on safety. Coeur d’Alene School District Superintendent Steve Cook said he expects the agreement to be finalized within a few weeks.
School board chairman Casey Morrisroe said he was “pleased we’re continuing the process and working together on a solution.”
Lakes Highway District chairman Rod Twete said a traffic light at Prairie Avenue and Moselle Drive was out of the question. “I don’t agree with a light at all. It will result in congestion we don’t want. But I do think the concept we came up with Dec. 3 is feasible.”
Lakes Highway District director Eric Shanley explained that the agreement would change traffic on Prairie Avenue, but not necessarily lead to a reduction in the speed limit. The still-unbuilt Moselle Drive, directly opposite Vantage Drive, would be the new school’s access off Prairie Avenue. Eastbound traffic traveling toward Ramsey Road will be able to take a right onto Moselle Drive, and those exiting Moselle Drive will have to make a right. Westbound traffic heading from Ramsey Road toward Atlas Road will be able to take a left onto Moselle Drive. Eastbound traffic will be able to take a left onto Vantage Drive. Controlled access medians will be installed per the agreement, Shanley said.
However, cars from the Stoddard Meadows subdivision will not be able to turn left from Vantage Drive to travel eastbound on Prairie Avenue. Instead, to travel east they will have to cut through the subdivision to reach Ramsey Road at Brookside Drive or Cardinal Avenue, or head farther north on Ainsworth Drive to reach Honeysuckle Avenue, Shanley said.
During Thursday’s public hearing, three citizens addressed the Lakes Highway District board. Two spoke against the proposal and one for it.
Barbara Maddox lives in the subdivision and said she already can’t sleep at night because of allergic reactions to dust kicked up by traffic. In addition, her living room would be in direct view of the school traffic. “I’m very, very concerned” about higher traffic, she said.
Local resident Barb Neal said she has lived here for 42 years and now sees traffic backed up down the road from a nearby Starbucks. “That’s just a Starbucks. It’s not an elementary school where people are picking up and dropping off,” she said.
Traffic congestion on Prairie Avenue is “a nightmare waiting to happen,” she said. While supportive of building a new school, Neal pointed out that voters approved a new school, but not its proposed location on Prairie Avenue.
Speaking of school district officials, she said, “They put the cart before the horse when they bought the property without figuring all this out first,” she said.
However, Hayden Lake resident Tony Villelli said Prairie Avenue was built to handle traffic. Putting a new school on a smaller street not designed to handle it would cause traffic congestion, he said.
“I don’t know where a better location is. I think this is a fine location for the school.”
Lakes Highway District commissioner Diane Fountain said she voted against the proposal because access to the school from Prairie Avenue will impede the flow of traffic on the major east-west thoroughfare.
Local transportation leaders agreed. “The more impacts we have, and intersections, it’s going to slow down traffic. We will have another Highway 95 that nobody’s happy with and no one wants to travel,” said Post Falls Highway District chairman Terry Werner. The proposed school site is only a few hundred feet outside of his highway district, Werner said.
“We need to be looking at it from how it’s going to affect us 15-20 years down the road rather than just the situation we’re in today,” said Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Glenn Miles.
Thursday’s vote gave staff members from both bodies the green light to hammer out the details of the compromise agreement, which was reached in a meeting Monday between representatives of the organizations. When the agreement is finalized, Cook said district staff would present to the school board plans of building at Prairie Avenue and plans for building at the old Hayden Lake Elementary School. The board could then decide which site to build first, with the goal of opening a new elementary school in the fall of 2020, Cook said.
The school district acquired land on Prairie Avenue earlier this year following many months of seeking an appropriate site. Along the way was plenty of debate. School board members alternated between refurbishing the Hayden Lake Elementary School building, which would include a land swap with the city of Hayden, and building a new school in the northwestern section of the school district. Rising real estate prices greatly influenced deliberations.
School district officials were dismayed when the highway district put the brakes on the Prairie Avenue plans Nov. 5. At Shanley’s urging, highway district commissioners sought to assess the traffic impact to Prairie Avenue first before green-lighting the school district’s request.
Lakes Highway District commissioners will next meet on Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m.