City and school district at loggerheads over widening road
The problem can be measured in inches, but the solution may be miles away.
While most aspects of construction of the new Eureka Springs High School have gone smoothly, there is at least one kink still to be worked out: the new high school is accessed by Lake Lucerne Road, and Lake Lucerne Road is too narrow.
"The street is 17 feet wide and needs to be 20 for two buses to pass each other," says John Murphy. He and Dr. Ken Brown were co-chairs of the planning committee that helped raise public awareness for the new high school project and helped get it on the ballot. "God forbid they should sideswipe, go into a ditch, children hurt or killed. Talk about a liability issue! It's only 820 feet or so of road and can be paved for $29,000 or $30,000, but if you wait till cold weather, the asphalt won't set right. It's a cut and dried situation and I don't understand [the city's] argument [for not widening it.]"
Eureka Springs Mayor Morris Pate says the problem was poor planning. "As I understand the situation," he said, "the school district didn't make any plan to widen the road there when they were planning the new school. Both Greenwood Hollow Road and Lake Lucerne Road are city property, and we do maintain them. There was a question of whether or not they could use school tax money to widen the road, but the Department of Education has apparently told them they couldn't use that money to improve a city-owned street. They would have to use it for a road that was for their own use specifically."
Pate said the district had FOI'd the city's budget. "They don't seem to understand that just because there's money in there doesn't mean it's available for use," he said. "The money has already been budgeted for other things."
Pate said the issue was on the agenda for the Nov. 12 meeting. "They are going to make a proposal to have us fix the road before school opens over there in January, which I don't see happening given the time frame," he said. "Although I don't foresee a favorable outcome for them in this situation, they will have time to tell their side Monday night."
Eureka Springs Public Works Duane Allen said the problem was the result of them dropping the ball.
"There was discussion early on of sharing costs," Allen said, "including the possibility of sharing some costs with the county somehow. At the time I met with Mayor Dani Joy and [then-Superintendent] Wayne Carr about the overall situation back when the new high school was announced. We looked at different options for how to deal with the situation but nothing was agreed on.
"They came to City Council and wanted some fees waived, which we were unable to do. They were going to do the whole thing, road and all, when they did the parking lot, but apparently they can't use local tax money for working on the road that the city maintains.
"Mr. Carr had come up with the plan at one point to get around the road being too narrow by requiring only one bus at a time use it, and asking for an extra police patrol to help with traffic.
"Now they say we have failed them. We did try to participate. But a project like this is worked into the budget when the budget is made, either their construction budget or, if we were to pay for it, at the time our budget is drawn up. For the school district to expect us to take on the responsibility of widening that road at this point is difficult at the very least."
Eureka Springs Superintendent Curtis Turner contended the school had been trying to get the road widened for some time.
"I met Mayor Pate and Chief Hyatt in April and talked about the road then," he said. "They were going to get the city engineer to look at it but I never heard anything. In August we re-contacted them. I understand they are going to move the fire hydrant on the corner. It's too close to allow a bus to make the turn."
Turner said according to an Attorney General opinion from 2004, the school cannot use money earmarked for the district to work on the road. "But it's a safety issue that has to be resolved," he said. "We need to fix the road so we can get the kids in and out safely. We've all been trying to work on this. From day one we were talking about the new road and new building. We aren't trying to make this a huge problem, we just need to get something done."
The school district will make its case to City Council on Monday, Nov. 12.