Beaufort County residents and parents should brace for changes to their morning and afternoon commutes when students head back to school Monday.
A new private school opening in southern Beaufort County could change traffic patterns in the Okatie area, but the biggest changes are likely in the city of Beaufort.
City and Beaufort County School District officials will introduce new traffic procedures with the aim of easing twice-a-day traffic jams around Beaufort Elementary School. Beaufort commuters also can expect more traffic near the two campuses of the area’s newest charter school.
Members of the school district, the police department, and the city’s planning department worked to figure out a new traffic flow, according to Lt. Charles Squires of the police department’s Operations Division. Diagrams of the new traffic patterns will be available at both of the schools for parents to pick up, he added.
On Monday, extra officers will patrol the areas around Beaufort Elementary and Bridges Preparatory and react as traffic necessitates, he said.
Traffic at the school confounded parents and nearby residents last school year. Some who live near the school complained their driveways and streets were blocked for as long as 30 minutes at a time during drop-off and pick-up time.
School officials expect enrollment to increase this year because it is a school of choice — which means children from beyond the school’s zoned boundaries can attend to take advantage of special programs.
To avert problems, signs and school officials will direct parents to new grade-specific pick-up lines in the afternoon, in an effort to expedite traffic flow and ease congestion.School now starts and ends 15 minutes later — classes will be in session from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A Head Start program there will dismiss 15 minutes earlier, and special-education classes have different hours, as well.
School and city officials hope the staggered times help prevent traffic jams.
The school also freed up more spaces to allow parents in the pick-up line to park if their child is delayed, according to city planner Libby Anderson.
"That should keep the flow going," Anderson wrote in an email to The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet. "It was also emphasized how important it was to have a lot of teacher help available outside during the drop-off and pick-up times."
Other changes include:
"I am sure the first week or two will be very hectic, but by early September, we will know if ... (the) changes have made a difference in traffic flow," Anderson wrote.
The state-supported charter school opens Monday with kindergarten and first grade attending classes at the Charles Lind Brown Community Center on Hamar Street. Those in grades two through six will be about a half mile away at the Beaufort Boys & Girls Club.
Like Beaufort Elementary, drop-off and pick-up times at the Boys & Girls Club will be staggered for each grade level between 6:50 and 7:50 a.m.
Class times are 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Students, though, won’t officially be counted as tardy until 8:30 a.m., head of schools Melesia Walden said.
"We’re hoping that way we won’t have that congestion all at one time," Walden said.
About 360 students are expected to attend class between the two locations.
Afternoon dismissal will also be staggered by grade level, though many students will remain at the Boys & Girls Club or be taken to other facilities for after-school programs, Walden said.
Parents will enter Congress Street from Charles Street and drop off and pick up students at the rear of the club at the entrance to the gymnasium, and continue past Church Street.
At the Charles Lind Brown Center, parents will head down Bladen Street to Greene Street and turn right into the driveway in front of the center to drop off and pick up.
Parents will exit by circling around and turning left on Hamar Street and then onto Duke Street, she said.
Walden said the school is reminding parents not to block driveways or streets, and pull as far to the right of the road as possible to allow room for emergency vehicles to get by, should they need to.
School officials will also encourage students and parents not to dawdle, Walden said.
"It’s a wonderful plan that really will work if parents arrive when they are supposed to and should flow quickly," she said. "We don’t want a lot of parents coming early or late. We want them to get as close to the drop-off and dismissal times as possible."
"We ask parents to have patience, because it’s a brand-new traffic pattern and we’ll see if adjustments need to be made."
POPE JOHN PAUL II CATHOLIC SCHOOL
A longer-than-expected permitting process will delay the opening of the permanent campus of the Catholic high school in the area. So, when the first students arrive at Pope John Paul II Catholic School on Wednesday in Okatie, they will attend classes at Okatie Baptist Church’s education center, not far from the school’s eventual 72-acre site along S.C. 170.
Those picking up and dropping off students will turn off S.C. 170 into Okatie Baptist Church’s U-shaped driveway. Although there is no traffic light at the church’s entrance, school officials say the parking lot offers plenty of space, and a dedicated center turn lane should keep traffic from backing up on S.C. 170.
About 60 students are expected to be enrolled.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.