It was a rough first few days of school at Lincoln High

It was a rough first few days of school at Lincoln High

The new school arrival plan at Lincoln High School creates a one-way traffic pattern to alleviate congestion during drop-off and pickup.

LINCOLN – School and town officials are working together to sort out some of the kinks experienced by students and staff returning to Lincoln High School during a major construction project.

A key item of concern for parents of students at the high school was traffic, both inside and outside the school. Temperatures in the 90s put an added strain on those trying to navigate the building, which has been modified to enable the demolition of the school’s “connecter” at the center of the campus. One parent of a freshman at LHS called the third day of the school year “day three of destruction at LHS.”

“The traffic outside isn’t even a glimpse of what’s happening inside,” said the parent, who asked not to be named. “The air quality is awful. The classrooms are overcrowded. It takes 15 minutes to move between classes because they’re jammed up in the stairwells. There aren’t enough seats so children are sitting on radiators to eat lunch. On the first day there was drilling below my son’s classroom and the teacher said she couldn’t hear herself think.”

“There’s no varnishing it, there’s definitely challenges,” Supt. Larry Filippelli told The Breeze.

“My biggest concern is the educational experience of the kids and the safety of the students and teachers,” Filippelli said. “The administration is constantly monitoring the situation and asks that you give us a chance to look at things and make the necessary changes.”

When school started last week, traffic was backed up to Route 116. In response, school officials teamed with the Department of Public Works, Town Engineer Leslie Quish and members of the Lincoln Police Department to develop a new traffic pattern they say will mitigate some of the congestion experienced in the parking lot.

Students and parents will now enter the parking lot through the school’s main entrance (closest to Route 116), which has been made into a one-way access point. Students will divert to the left into the student permit parking area in front of the school, while parents dropping off students at the North Gym, the school’s main entrance during construction, will turn left and hug the fence along the front of the school until they reach the drop-off area.

Only buses and teachers will be permitted to enter the school at the library driveway. Parents leaving the school after drop-off will now be required near the library and make a right-hand turn onto Old River Road toward the baseball field.

“We’ve done some tweaks with the parking and were able to address that issue. … We wanted to get that situated,” Principal Kevin McNamara said. “We’re turning our attention to traffic inside.”

“Some areas of the school will need a plan, and we’re working on those plans as we speak,” he said, noting that the bottom-rear of what they refer to as the “300s” was one such area. Another was the school’s cafeteria. “Because of the way the property is laid out, there are only certain things we can do with traffic, but we are working aggressively to mitigate those issues,” he said.

Unfortunately, said McNamara, the safest option isn’t always the speediest option.

“As we work in the building we want to be sure we’re moving kids as efficiently and safely as possible through certain areas,” he said, adding that he encourages parents to call him with any concerns, questions or helpful suggestions.

School Committee Vice Chairman Joseph Goho, who is the father of two children in the district, said he has received a lot of initial feedback from other parents after encouraging them to reach out and share what their children were experiencing.

“Thus far, although it is very early in the school year, it’s a mixed bag,” Goho said. “It’s important to stress that we expect there to be inconveniences and some disruption, and that plans will be continually evolving as issues arise.”

In the “positive feedback” column, Goho said school personnel had been “working tirelessly to prepare for the opening of the high school to ensure it’s as seamless as possible.”
“Communication from the high school and school department has been ongoing and frequent. Colliers and the OPM also have been very proactive to address design questions they’ve uncovered, and Mr. McNamara has been working with the fire marshal on site daily,” Goho said, adding that the Freshman Roar was a great event that was well organized and executed in light of the changes to the facility.

Despite the effort to improve conditions at LHS during construction, Goho said there are “legitimate questions and concerns about the size and design of the truncated building by SMMA, which thus far has raised questions about whether or not it can adequately support over 1,100 students and staff, unless there are adjustments.”
For example, Goho said there has been a daily backup at the entrance/exit at the rear of the building used by students who arrive and depart by bus.

“This is a large number of students and there may not be adequate space for a flow of egress. Thus far there has been quite a logjam in this area at arrival and dismissal. It appears that SMMA may not have initially accounted for adequate handicapped egress, so I’m told they decided recently to add a ramp to the rear of the school. That (exit) system is still being monitored for effectiveness,” Goho said.

In the school’s auditorium, a divider has been installed to separate the stage from the gallery so band students can use the stage for classes and rehearsals, but the space may not be large enough.

“More importantly, there are questions about how loud the area will be once students start playing instruments and practicing without the space of the auditorium to diffuse the sound. Sound diffusers may have to be installed, or some other accommodation made for band students,” Goho said.

Goho said other questions such as building cleanliness, overcrowding in classrooms and in the cafeteria, and drilling during class time were being addressed by the school administration.

School Committee Chairwoman Kristine Donabedian said the committee had been “assured throughout the planning process that inconveniences and disruption would be minimal and would not interfere with teaching and learning. We will insist that the construction teams maintain this standard. We do not expect students and staff to adjust to excessive noise, overcrowding or any other material disruption to teaching and learning.”

“It’s not as clean as it would normally be,” Filippelli said. “The custodians are doing a great job with what they’ve had to work with, but you’re in a construction zone. When you’re doing a $60 million project, there will be some challenges to overcome.”

Town Administrator Joseph Almond, who is the father of a freshman and senior at LHS, agreed that there have been some pedestrian traffic issues and other inconveniences to adjust to this year.

“There are going to be changes. It’s impossible to rebuild a school that’s occupied without some inconvenience,” he said.

Almond said the school is at its tightest space-wise right now, with areas that have to come down and areas that have to be built.

“Now is the most inconvenient time, but the process will improve as it goes,” he said. “There’s going to be changes people will have to get comfortable with, but we’ve all made it the priority to have the least amount of disruptions to the educational environment of students there.”

A sign and caution tape bar students from entering a hallway at Lincoln High School during construction. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)
The temporary library space at Lincoln High School awaited set-up during the school’s 9th-grade orientation, the Freshman Roar, on Aug. 23.
The North Gym at Lincoln High School serves as the main entrance and office during construction.