Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

School officially opposes Highway 14 plan

by Rob Ireland

March 22, 2012

WALWORTH — The Walworth Elementary School Board took its first official action Monday night to oppose the plan that reroutes Highway 14 closer to its location at 121 Beloit St.

At the recommendation of the Village Board, the Department of Transportation intends to implement a reroute of Highway 14 that relocates Heyer Park to the east, which allows the road to curve around the square.

The plan also calls for the Antique Mall to be torn down. With the Antique Mall gone, the road would travel through its old location, which eliminates all right-hand turns.

Walworth Elementary School officials are concerned that bringing the road closer to the building will put students at risk who walk to the campus.

“We still have grave concerns for students health and safety,” District Administrator Pam Knorr said. “It’s in not like it’s a high school.”

Village Board members said its plan improves safety along the square. With this change, the highway wouldn’t intersect with as many streets that students cross. The Village Board also plans on building a road to connect Onvoy directly with Highway 14, which would reduce truck traffic.

“I know the Village Board is concerned about safety also,” School Board President Kelly Freeman said. However, she disagrees that the village’s plan is the best alternative.

During the meeting, the School Board adopted a resolution that opposes the village’s plan for the highway. However, that’s not the only way school officials plan on opposing the proposal. On March 9, Freeman, Knorr, the school’s attorney and four residents met with the DOT to discuss their concerns.

“They were surprised we were never part of this decision,” Freeman said. “We were very well received and they were very interested in our side of the story.”

Freeman said the DOT encouraged school officials to contact state Sen. Neal Kedzie and Rep. Tyler August about the issue. The DOT also encouraged Freeman to organize a meeting with local state representatives, school and village officials.

The school is also pushing forward with a grassroots effort to oppose the plan.

On March 5, at the school, almost 100 people attended a meeting about the project, most of whom opposed it. At the meeting, petitions were distributed that oppose the village’s lan.

The third avenue the school is exploring to stop the reroute is through legal remedies. Freeman said the school, not the state, holds the deed to the property, which may stop the plan in its tracks.

Freeman also said the school spoke to its attorney about adding the site to the registry of historic buildings.

The school has been at its current location since 1853 and has had multiple additions, and Freeman said it might qualify for the Wisconsin National Register of Historic Places.

The resolution

Four of the School Board members signed the resolution to oppose the plan, but board member Patrick Hubertz, who also is a Village Board trustee, abstained from the vote.

After the meeting, Hubertz said he abstained because he received legal advice stating he “can’t take action on both bodies.”

“I have to choose one or the other,” he said.

Hubertz said he chose to take action at the Village Board level, where he supported the plan after some modifications were made.

“There were no other reasonable alternatives that were presented to the Village Board,” Hubertz said.

Hypothetically, had Hubertz not been on the Village Board, he said he would have likely opposed the school’s resolution.

“I tend to oppose resolutions that are negative in nature,” Hubertz said. “(The School Board) probably should go out and develop our own plan.”

During the meeting, Hubertz told school board members that they should have done more to voice their concerns with Plan Commission during the earlier stages of the project.

“Probably, this board should have executed itself more pragmatically with the Plan Commission,” Hubertz said.

After the meeting, Knorr said it isn’t the school’s responsibility to develop plans for the state highway.

“Our job was to react to the proposal,” Knorr said. “We are going to react when people are impending on our property.”

Freeman said she is optimistic that the two boards can work together, and find an alternative.

“We know the DOT wants a consensus, they told us that,” she said.