The January blizzard left the Toms River Regional school district using two snow days and a delayed opening, but the feedback from the district’s snow response has been positive, officials said at its January 10 subcommittee meeting.
But parents at the meeting said their disappointment lay with local property owners and the towns that still needed to do the most work keeping students safe by clearing their roads and sidewalks for busses and students.
Parents reported that unshoveled sidewalks left young children in the street, whether they were walking or waiting for busses, and asked school officials at the buildings and ground committee whether the towns could do more to make conditions safe.
School Board Member Chris Raiman said that he had in fact reached out to Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, who was apologetic, he said, and that his town would be taking an initiative to remind residents to shovel their sidewalks.
Many towns have a fine they can levy on residents who fail to shovel their sidewalks. For the most part, school officials at the meeting urged the parents to contact the towns directly. Toms River Regional serves students across Toms River and also South Toms River, Pine Beach and Beachwood, with road conditions that vary.
Board President Russell Corby said the bus drivers should be commended for navigating roads made narrow by snow piles and slippery from ice.
“We had trucks sliding all around and I see a bus driver managing it all handling these terrible conditions,” said Corby, of Pine Beach. “These bus drivers are heroes.”
On January 9, the school had a delayed opening, meaning school would open 90 minutes later than usual, citing the icy road conditions. For the earliest scheduled schools – the high schools – parents reported roads were still very icy but better for the later scheduled elementary schools.
Facilities Manager Mark Wagner, reporting at the committee meeting, said clearing the access roads, parking lots and sidewalk areas of each school is an undertaking that uses large equipment such as front loaders and plow trucks, but also custodians with shovels.
“A lot of hard work and effort did go into it for this storm,” Wagner said. “The superintendent heeded our advice quickly. As much as you want to be open for school, when it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.”
Raiman said that school grounds looked good and were clear for Monday’s return to school. Wagner said that any issues that were reported, crews were dispatched to address those conditions.
“You have to remember that when architects imagine the layouts for buildings and areas for this part of the country, they don’t necessarily ask themselves where on the grounds is a good spot to dump any large piles of plowed snow,” Wagner said.
Corby said that the number of students transported each day needs to be put into perspective to understand the size of the undertaking.
“We have 13,000 students who have to be transported to school, each day, all those students,” said Corby, adding that for comparison a military division numbers about 15,000.
Wagner said that the frigid temperatures of the last couple weeks have been impacting facilities as well. He said a couple pipes have burst, a ventilation component was impacted and that Intermediate South has had a chronic “phenomena” whenever temperatures are below freezing.
Some of the doors won’t open because the ground underneath buckles up somewhat when it is frozen, he said.
“Intermediate South has a phenomena in the frigid, frigid cold weather that has been happening that we are trying to figure out,” he said. “We must have water underground that when it freezes it expands and makes the sidewalk heave, which in turn makes the doors not open.”
“I’m not a hydrologist but we have to figure this out,” Wagner said. “We don’t know why the water isn’t percolating down.”
Another impact of weather conditions is the delay to a planned improvement to school traffic signs, the ones that flash or show an updated school speed limit.
Wagner said the day that JCP&L was scheduled to do its work on the signs, the blizzard hit. The project is now likely going to happen the end of January or early February.
Wagner also updated the board with a new fence option for Washington Street Elementary School, where a concern had been brought up at the previous meeting about people being able to access the school through the adjacent woods.
Raiman said when he visited the area after last meeting, he saw the area was less of a concern than was previously depicted, due to the large amount of brush and heavy tree line making the area not easy to walk through.
Wagner said that there was an option to add a fence perpendicular to the existing fenceline to breach the path of anyone trying to walk through the woods, and that areas of the existing fenceline also needed to be patched in some areas.
Other projects updated as part of the building and grounds committee were a possible referendum to pay for a list of capital projects, with officials saying they were still a ways off from the complete list of projects and a possible referendum date.