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Thursday, June 18, 2009

BOE testimony to Planning Board on zoning change

Here is the testimony that Sheila Brogan gave to the Planning Board hearing last night, on behalf of the Board of Education.

It's long, but I thought it was better to give the entire text here, rather than just a link. (If you want the full text on RPS letterhead, click here.)

Over the last year, the Board of Education has watched the proceedings before the Planning Board and is aware of Valley’s request for changes to the Village of Ridgewood’s Zoning Code, Chapter 190-117 H Hospital District. We understand that granting this request may lead Valley Hospital to move forward with their plans for Renewal.

Throughout the community, there are those who support Valley Hospital’s Renewal and those who do not. It is not our intention to become intertwined in this debate as to whether or not Valley Hospital should be allowed to modernize their facilities. We are not experts who can determine safe construction noise and dust levels or how to protect our students during any hospital expansion that may take place. However, speaking for the Ridgewood Board of Education I come before you tonight to give voice to the health, safety, and educational concerns that may arise should the Planning Board amend the Master Plan for the hospital zone and subsequently approve plans for construction at Valley Hospital as proposed in
their Renewal Plan.

The Board of Education has heard concerns from many parents about the proposed changes to the zoning code and the possible construction at Valley Hospital. The size, scope of work, and the duration of the construction project that is being discussed is unprecedented in our community. I am sharing the Board of Education’s concerns tonight and request that the Planning Board consider them in your deliberations and adopt procedural requirements for construction for inclusion in the Master Plan for the H Hospital district zone. We ask for this inclusion because of the size, scope and duration of the project proposed. If the Master Plan is amended as requested by Valley Hospital and construction approved, the following concerns exist and we hope these concerns are given consideration in your deliberations:

Air Quality and Noise Pollution: We are concerned about the air quality due to dust and dirt during demolition and construction. There are 691 students who currently attend Benjamin Franklin Middle School, 5.7% of these students have asthma. There are 417 students who attend Travell Elementary School, 8.2% of these students have asthma. The Board requests that an environmental baseline study be done at the hospital’s expense. This study would measure the air quality prior to construction and then during construction. We also request that there be a continuous monitoring system installed at the construction site that would monitor the air quality regularly and signal when the levels of dust, dirt, pollutants become higher than acceptable based on specific guidelines established by an independent expert. Should the air quality monitoring show an appreciable change for the worse in air quality, the Board would like to know what plans the hospital will have to deal with the adverse effects which may result, including the effects on children with asthma. It would be preferable to have any demolition of buildings done in the summer when students are on recess. In addition, truck and construction equipment idling should be prohibited so as to not contribute to air pollution. There is concern about the air pollution generated by diesel trucks.

We are concerned about dust and debris from the construction site finding its way to BF and to Travell, coating the windows, building exteriors, the surrounding grounds, playground equipment, and the athletic fields. Consideration to controlling dust in the air and cleaning the outside of BF and Travell should be part of any construction agreement.

We are concerned about excessive noise during construction that may negatively impact the learning environment at Benjamin Franklin Middle School. We recommend a continuous monitoring system be installed to alert the construction workers to noise levels above a certain decibel standard established by an independent expert knowledgeable about current and researched base guidelines.

We agree with the testimony of the Village Engineer provided on June 3, 2009. He advised and we concur that “noise abatement technology be installed as part of the construction process and post construction. Use of noise canceling technology, buffers and dampers should also be considered.” It is of great concern that construction will be ongoing for five years for phase one and that subsequent phases will prolong the construction period. This could seriously impact the learning environment for thousands of students at Benjamin Franklin unless efforts are made to monitor and control noise levels. For both noise and air pollution, consideration should be given by the Village to hire, at Valley's expense, an independent Environmental Safety Expert to monitor the construction and its impact on the environment.

Time of Construction Trucks Entering and Exiting the Site: We request that no trucks or shuttle buses be permitted to enter or exit the construction site or the hospital entrance nor travel near the school between the hours of 7:15 and 8:45 AM and 2:30 and 3:30 PM, when children are going to and from school. Alterations to this schedule should be accommodated on specific days when there may be planned early dismissals.

There are days and times when the field is heavily used by student athletes. The Board has been discussing the possibility of making improvements to the BF field and constructing a new 400 meter track there. If this improvement is made, we will relocate our track and field competitions to BF and, at times, we will host track and field meets. At such time, there would have to be alterations to the construction schedule. There needs to be ongoing communication with the hospital about these athletic competitions which may require construction to halt to ensure that our student athletes, coaches and visitors are safe.
Route of Construction Trucks: We ask that no trucks be allowed to travel along the perimeter of the Benjamin Franklin Middle School building on East Glen and Van Dien Avenues during school hours to protect the integrity of the learning environment from excessive noise and for the safety of our students. As mentioned above, there may also be the need to curtail trucks traveling the perimeter of BF after school due to athletic events being hosted there.

Securing the Construction Site: The construction site might be attractive to students and we request that a plan be in place to secure the construction site against curious students. We also support the idea of having an independent construction engineer appointed by the Village to monitor construction and ensure compliance with the provisions in the developer’s agreement. We also request that security guards be posted at the construction site 24 hours a day.

We ask that all construction employees be subject to criminal history background checks and if a worker does not pass the criminal history background check, he or she not be permitted to work on the hospital construction site.

Crossing Guards: We have heard the recommendation that students walking along Van Dien during construction be requested to walk on the west side of the street. Although we understand the intent, it is
unrealistic to think that this request will be enforceable unless pedestrian access in front of the hospital is completely blocked. We believe that hiring additional security and crossing guards and keeping the existing crossing guards at the hospital entrances is a more realistic plan. The additional guards should be in place for the duration of the construction project, and should there be changes to the hospital entrance or to the construction entrance location that the Board of Education be notified so that our school communities can be alerted to the change. We would also recommend that the crossing guards be in place during the hours of construction thereby creating a safer pedestrian area for all pedestrians walking along
Van Dien by the hospital. The presence of crossing guards at the Valley entrance should continue after the construction is completed as it appears that there will be an increase in the number of cars entering and leaving the hospital grounds.

Pedestrian Safety and Traffic Congestion: We are concerned that the proposed Renewal Plan will lead to increased traffic congestion and that this may lead to pedestrian safety issues. Students attending Travell, Benjamin Franklin, and Ridgewood High School cross at Van Dien and Linwood Avenues. Should this intersection be widened to allow for turning lanes, pedestrians will be in the street for a longer period of time while crossing the intersection. We agree with the Village Engineer’s recommendation that if the intersection is widened a pedestrian refuge island be installed for pedestrians crossing Linwood Avenue along the east side of Van Dien Avenue. We further concur with the Village Engineer’s recommendation for new pedestrian traffic control signals with a countdown feature. We also agree with the Village Engineer in recommendations to improve traffic and pedestrian safety at John Street and Linwood Avenue. Installation of a traffic light at East Glen and Van Dien Avenues would assist with safer crossing for students and slowing traffic on East Glen Avenue. Should the intersection at Linwood and Van Dien be improved and the current traffic backups eliminated, more cars may travel on Glen to Van Dien on route to the hospital. We further recommend that these traffic and pedestrian safety improvements be made prior to the start of any construction at the hospital.

Parking: We request that there be continuation of parking restrictions and enforcement of these restrictions on streets surrounding the hospital to eliminate the possibility of hospital and construction
company employees parking on these streets. We would request that all construction and hospital employees park off-site during the construction and that buses bringing employees to and from the hospital follow the same route as construction trucks thereby avoiding traveling the perimeter of Benjamin Franklin Middle School during school hours.

In printed materials that Valley Hospital distributed regarding the Renewal Plan, they compiled two pages of items to be included in a Developer’s Agreement. All of these items should be carefully studied and addressed as they pertain to the safety and health concerns of the students and staff at BF. There are many concerns that would arise from approval of the proposed changes to the Master Plan. With this testimony, we have attempted to highlight the most significant concerns pertaining to our
students’ safety, health, and education.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening.

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