Friday, December 13, 2002
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Making one's way around town
It was Saturday morning. I had been dropped off at the post office to mail Christmas gifts to family members living out of town. Later, after I finished my business at the post office, I would walk to the library to get a ride home.
As I headed up Bedford Road on the snow-covered town right-of-way to the library, I couldn't help but think of Phillip Drew's recent Forum article (November 22), "Carlisle at the Crossroads." In it he wrote, "Carlisle is little more than a place to get through. Morning and evening, Carlisle's main roads become raceways for thousands of impatient drivers to speed away once they have cleared the bottleneck at the town center." Drew ought to know, living on Bedford Road across from the post office, approximately 1,000 feet from the rotary.
I was relieved to remember that the next section of the proposed school loop pedestrian pathway, which is schuduled to to be started next year, was the very route I was trudging along so carefully in the snow. There was no way I was going to be out in the slushy shoulder of the road facing down the cars heading eastward towards Bedford. As I walked towards the library, it was evident from all the footprints in the snow that this is a route favored by many making their way around town.
The town has been talking about footpaths since 1972, when the Concord-Carlisle League of Women Voters proposed building pathways along the town's major roads. Now, 28 years later, with traffic figures mounting, there is a greater need than ever to protect our citizens walking along the side of the road. The present pedestrian and bike safety advisory committee, which was formed by the Carlisle Board of Selectmen in 1997, have once again been focusing on pedestrian safety with their proposal for a small network of pathways installed within a mile or so of the town center.
If you are wondering what these paths will look like and how much they will be used, just take a look at the pathway that has already been built from the Spalding School driveway on School Street to the main school parking lot on Church Street. No longer do students have to walk out on a road made more narrow by the long line of parked cars and cars driven to and from the school by parents dropping off and picking up their children. Now they can walk on a pathway, separated from the road by a narrow swath of land (aproximately two to three feet wide), leading to the parking lot or to a path across the street, then down through the woods to the library and further on, with the help of a policeman, across Bedford Road to Daisy's Market.
Keeping within its budget and using materials which have proved successful in pathways built in Sudbury and Concord (see the pathway on Sudbury Road across from the Concord Library), the pathway committee's next project in the school loop is the section I had just walked, along Bedford Road, from the library to the post office. This footpath will provide access to facilities in the center of town for everyone, children and adults alike. The pathway committee has met with residents along the proposed pathway, helping to allay concerns of maintaining a natural and rural appearance to the pathways, explaining the materials to be used in their construction, as well as answering questions about maintainence by the DPW, which, by the way, has the full support of DPW head Gary Davis.
There are those who are against having a pathway built across any portion of their land, as evidenced in the committee's meeting with the historical district commission on November 26. But who can possibly oppose pathways along these major town roads where the traffic has increased so dramatically and will continue to increase as towns between Carlisle and Route 495 grow? Do we wait for a pedestrian fatality before we are willing to do anything? And how can we say no to pathways when we are told by the medical profession that we need to get out of our cars and exercise? What about the growing population of adults, and especially children who are overweight and need to be driven everywhere because it is not safe to be out walking along the road? Yes, there are legitimate questions to be asked, but in the end isn't it in the best interest of all the residents of our community to improve pedestrian safety along the sides of Carlisle's busy roads, which as Phillip Drew writes "have become raceways for thousands of impatient drivers?"
The pedestrian and bike safety committee will hold an open meeting on Monday night, December 16, at 8 p.m. in the Clark Room at Town Hall. Come learn more about the school loop pathway plan.
A sign hangs on my office door that reads: "times change — it's not enough to say it seemed a good idea a hundred years ago." I put the sign on the door to encourage our employees to think differently and, more importantly, to realize that what may have worked in the past may not work today. During the past year I found that it is quite easy to fall into the trap of not recognizing when change has taken place.
Eighteen months ago I was asked to serve on the CCHS Space Utilization Committee. The Regional School Committee charged our group with developing a comprehensive facilities plan that would accommodate the growing high school enrollment and its current programs. I graduated from CCHS in the early 1970s, when enrollment was actually greater than it is now, and growing. Over the past 32 years the district expanded the number of classrooms and renovated some of the original 1960s facilities. My initial naive thoughts were that this project would involve spending a limited amount of money to upgrade systems and renovate some tired buildings. These early thoughts couldn't have been further from the reality of today's requirements.
During this assignment I learned that our high school has changed significantly in both scope and configuration over the past 32 years. As the demographics of our towns have changed, so too have the demands on our educational systems. I attended CCHS at a time when a fair segment of the student body enrolled in technical and industrial programs such as auto mechanics, electronics, business education, drafting and home economics. These students generally did not avail themselves of the complete four-year academic program. I was surprised to learn that in those days only 65% to 70% of the graduating class went on to four-year colleges.
As Concord and Carlisle became more desirable suburban bedroom communities, the demands on and expectations of the high school grew. Today's student generally enrolls in a full academic schedule, including four years of math, science and foreign language. We now expect lower class sizes than existed in the 1960s and 1970s. Industrial arts have been replaced with programs in the performing and visual arts. The positive result of these changes is that now almost 95% of CCHS students advance to four-year colleges. Adding to the facility strains from programmatic changes, the core service areas of the school are worn and shabby. The locker rooms, auditorium, and cafeteria haven't had significant upgrades in forty years. They are in desperate need of extensive renovations or replacement.
The Space Utilization Committee recommends that the school district undertake a comprehensive plan that will add the necessary number of appropriate classrooms and renovate or replace the core service areas. The architects estimate that after adjusting for inflation the project will cost approximately $45 million. While the proposed price tag far exceeds my original expectations, I now better understand the need for this larger project, which is being driven by the changes that have taken place in the high school's scope and programs.
Times do in fact change. The school designed and built over forty years ago, while functional, no longer meets the educational needs of our children. Many of us believe that the work needs to be done, and our towns must soon decide how much of this project we can afford.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito