Column: Pilgrim Lane plan misses the mark

By Kaye McArdell

Guest Columnist

I am responding to the article, “Pilgrim Lane plans draw a crowd in Plymouth,” published July 28.

McArdell
McArdell

The Sun article didn’t really capture the essence of our neighborhood’s concerns about the school district administration’s decision to relocate a significant number of high-school students into the Pilgrim Lane campus. Pilgrim Lane was designed for and built around the needs and schedules of elementary school children, not high school students.

The article stated that Sandburg Learning Center, which currently houses the targeted high-school programs Highview and TASC, is adjacent to a Golden Valley neighborhood that is “similar” to the Pilgrim Lane neighborhood. To those of us who have been to both locations, this comparison misses the mark.

Equating the Sandburg campus with the Pilgrim Lane campus is akin to equating a basketball court with a ping-pong table. Sandburg is bordered on two sides by major roads and commercial buildings, has far more physical space and a significantly larger “buffer zone” relative to nearby homes.

Pilgrim Lane is surrounded on all four sides by homes, quiet residential streets and adjacent Plymouth parkland. Why would the district’s administration think that it is suddenly appropriate to start playing basketball games on a ping pong table?

High school students, typically mobile and vocal, require facilities with large buffer zones and plentiful parking, which the Pilgrim Lane campus does not possess. According to the administration, one-third of the approximately 150 Highview students drive, and all are allowed to leave campus for lunch.

The Pilgrim Lane campus has only 105 parking spots, which will have to be shared among Highview students, staff of at least four programs, and community education participants. The sheer number of programs destined for Pilgrim Lane, by the administration’s own admission, will keep it open 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. year-round. The accompanying traffic and noise levels are not suitable for the Pilgrim Lane campus and the surrounding neighborhood.

The administration and school board state that Highview and TASC are largely succeeding at Sandburg. This indicates that after years of program relocation, they’ve finally found the right setting. Why do these programs need to be relocated if they are successful where they are?

The administration’s claim that their current facilities plan has been in the works for 20 months is misleading. The FAIR Crystal school was acquired in June 2015, after which they decided to relocate Highview and TASC to Pilgrim Lane. Phase 1 of the plan was approved by the school board just weeks later on July 6. Only one plan was submitted by the administration for voting.

The administration claims it has spent a long time studying the issue, but also claim that there was no time to involve our community because of the timing of the FAIR school acquisition. This is nonsense.

It appears that the administration and school board are merely seeking an expedient but not the best route to quickly remedy significant past missteps, such as relying on faulty enrollment projections when deciding several years ago which schools to close.

Only weeks remain before the school board votes on Phase 2 of the plan. Our community is probably not alone in thinking that the administration and school board are being irresponsible by rushing into their current plan without fully considering alternatives.

The Pilgrim Lane campus, when remodeled to bring it back up to code, is perfectly positioned to meet the needs of our youngest students. I ask the District 281 administration and school board to be good neighbors by incorporating our input and adopting a plan that will not fundamentally alter the nature and character of our neighborhood.

Kaye McArdell is a Plymouth resident and has lived on Pilgrim Lane since 2004.