OAKLAND -- Montclair residents voiced their concerns about the continued impact of the expansion of Montclair Elementary School on the community, including the ongoing congestion as well as the limitation of the community's access to the facility after hours.
Principal Nancy Bloom said she is sympathetic to concerns expressed by nearby residents and said that measures are already underway to address the issues. Residents have endured nearly two years of dust, noise and congestion caused by the project.
"During morning drop-off and afternoon pickup as well as during school events, the traffic is horrific," said Maggie Harmon, a resident and former Montclair Elementary School parent. "It is very nearly impossible to get anywhere around the school, parents and children run through the street, and cars are double-parked. Either OUSD or the school site need to do something to mitigate this hazard -- it is much more than an inconvenience, as it essentially allows the school community to take over the larger neighborhood twice a day."
Marie Brady, who lives across the street from the school, reported that people routinely block her and her neighbor's driveways and refuse to move in a timely manner, making it difficult to get her own children to school in the morning. Brady is also a former parent at the school and understands the morning rush but is frustrated by the lack of consideration of parents for the neighbors.
The school has expanded from 346 students when Bloom arrived eight years ago to 551 students today. Currently, 90 percent of the students are from the Montclair neighborhood.
"We are serving our neighborhood," Bloom said. "The expansion of Montclair School was going to happen."
Bloom was adamant that the restructuring of the parking lot be part of the plan. The parking lot was completed this past week, including an expanded drop-off area with valet service in the parking lot, as well as in front of the school, which Bloom hopes will alleviate congestion along Mountain Boulevard in front of the school. Bloom has met with city traffic engineers four times to brainstorm on ways to improve the traffic situation around the school.
"This is the best we could do. I truly have tried to do everything I can think of to alleviate the situation," Bloom said.
Residents have also complained that the gates are locked on the weekends, denying the community access. The hilly topography of the neighborhood and the lack of sidewalks makes the school grounds the most accessible place for local children to ride their bikes and play basketball, according to Barbara Lee, a resident and former educator.
"The bottom line is that schools should be a resource for the community," Lee said.
Bloom agreed, but said that the playground has been locked some weekend days because of continued construction and the use of heavy machinery.
"Heavy equipment and kids don't mix," Bloom said. "I'm not doing this to be mean. I'm doing this to be safe."
The gate will continue to be locked on days when machinery is being used on the site, but should be open at all other times. Bloom said the plan is that the community will have continued access once the final stages of construction are completed.
The fence surrounding the school is another point of contention with residents. It may be unattractive, but it is not climbable, Bloom said.
"It's sad to see a prisonlike fence. It's airtight in terms of an assault," Lee said. "It's heartbreaking. Playgrounds used to be open, and people came and went. It's a sad commentary on our society."
Bloom was out of town when the fence was installed.
"When I saw the photos, it wasn't the fence I anticipated, either," Bloom said. "I was livid."
Bloom tried to get the fence changed but was told that it met the school district's standard. The fence will be made more attractive with landscaping, according to Bloom.
"With the climate being what it is, OUSD would be remiss in their responsibilities if they didn't take measures to protect kids. School should be the safest place a kid could be," Bloom said.
As for the building itself, the clash of architecture between the new and the old building has been noticed by residents.
"This is a brand new green school for 21st century learning," Bloom said. "It cannot look like a building built more than 90 years ago."
Bloom has requested that the old building be painted to match the new building, which should help blend the old with the new. This may be scheduled as early as next summer.
"I'm very proud of this building," Bloom said. "Is this building perfect? No, but we did get an extraordinary building that will educate the next generation."
Bloom encouraged residents to talk directly to her about their concerns. An open house will be planned when the project is completed.