Traffic on Knowlton Street was the focus of discussion during a Feb. 1 Planning Board review of the site plan for the new Camden-Rockport Middle School building.

Only one member of the public spoke during the open comment period. Geoff Scott said he was representing the Camden Rockport Pathways Committee, which is planning a new section of the Riverwalk behind the middle school. The Riverwalk follows the Megunticook River, with two sections completed, and a plan to run from Seabright Dam to Camden Harbor.

Scott asked that the SAD 28 school district and Oak Point Associates, the architects and engineers for the new middle school, take future plans for the Riverwalk into consideration as they develop the school property. The pathway may cross a small piece of the school's property, near the back boundary on the river.

Oak Point Associates landscape architect Allison DeMatteo, civil engineer Stephen Sargent and electrical engineer Matthew Lafond offered a presentation touching on multiple requirements of the site plan, including traffic concerns, tree cutting and planting, and lighting.

Sargent explained the new 83,400-square-foot building would be set back 160 feet from Knowlton Street, on the existing 15.25-acre property. A bus loop, a parent drop-off loop, and parking lot will be located in front of the building. Exterior building materials and colors have been modified based on comments from the School Board's CRMS building committee and members of the public, to fit in with the surrounding residential area.

Sargent said Oak Point has engaged Maine Traffic Resources of Gardiner to review traffic issues. He contrasted the current situation, where the school building is close to the street, and has no bus loop, with the plans for the new school.

Currently, buses stop in front of the school in the morning to drop students off, and parents also drop children off in a parent loop. When buses unload in the morning, they turn on their red flashing lights, and parent traffic backs up on Knowlton Street.

In the afternoon, four buses arrive at a time, and stop in front of the school for about 10 minutes, with their red lights flashing. This causes parent and other traffic to back up on Knowlton Street, and sometimes spill out onto Washington Street.

Sargent said there are about 30 parking spaces on Knowlton Street, across from the school. He said teachers sometimes park there.

The new bus loop will take the buses off the street, and alleviate traffic backup, according to Sargent. There is enough room for up to seven buses, the lane is wide enough for buses to pass one another in the loop, and the turning radius at the entrance is wide enough for a smooth turn of a tractor trailer truck.

The new parent drop off/pick up loop will accommodate a queue of up to 22 vehicles, compared with space for a 12-vehicle queue now. An additional 15 visitor parking spaces in the loop can be used to absorb parent traffic. He indicated that morning drop off is expected to be quick, while afternoon pick up is less predictable. The new building will include a parking lot with 90 spaces in front of the school, which will eliminate teacher-use street parking, according to Sargent.

Planning Board member Rosie Curtis was not satisfied that traffic problems, including those observed by the Maine Traffic Resources consultant, have been addressed by the site plan.

"We asked for additional study. We're concerned. The traffic consultant is concerned. She witnessed a lot of parents picking up their kids in the street right now," she said.

SAD 28 Superintendent Maria Libby said once the new school is built, the traffic and safety concerns on Knowlton will "be a lot better than what we're dealing with now."

She described the current situation as unsafe. While many parents use the drop off/pick up loop, others avoid the loop. Some stop near the front of the school and let their children out into the street. Others park across the street from the school, some letting children run across the street. She said the school cannot force parents to use the existing drop off loop, or the proposed loop for the new school. She disagreed with a comment that Sargent made about parents using the parking spaces on Knowlton Street for drop off and pickup, as she believes that is unsafe.

Libby expects that the new bus and parent loops and new parking lot will alleviate the problem of traffic blocking Knowlton Street. She believes that if there are more cars than can queue in the loop, the cars are not going to block the middle of the street, but will line up along the right side of the street in front of the school.

DiMatteo reviewed the new landscaping plan. She said as many existing trees on the property would be retained, as possible, including the large trees in front of the Mary E. Taylor building. About 12 trees will be removed for the construction of the new building, according to DiMatteo, including the large trees between Knowlton Street and the front of the existing classroom wing. She said these trees are damaged and diseased, and will be replaced with a row of deciduous canopy trees.

Other trees to be removed are near the back of the new classroom wing. Any trees removed will be replaced with native species, similar to what is there now, she said.

New trees will be planted to buffer the parking lot from Knowlton Street, new landscaping and a small garden will be added closer to the entrance of the school, and in a green area within the parent loop. Hardy trees and shrubs will screen the service area, and a neighbor on the south side of the school is requesting trees for additional screening.

There will be sidewalks on the property for students who ride bikes and walk to school, improving safety by moving pedestrians away from the road. Bike racks will be located in a central common in front of the school. There will be a covered walkway with seating outside the school where students can wait for parents to pick them up. The connecting sidewalk from the middle school to the Teen Center will remain.

Lafond presented an exterior lighting plan. He emphasized that the goal of the lighting is to use the minimum needed, while focusing lighting downward for dark sky compliance, and away from Knowlton Street and neighboring properties. The 20-feet-tall light poles in the parking lot, will have full cut off, meaning the light will not illuminate anything off of the school site, he said. Energy efficient LED lamps will be used.

Planning Board members asked whether the school can control the lighting.

Keith Rose, SAD 28 Director of Facilities, explained that at the elementary and high school, lights are programmed, and can be changed for a special events.

At the beginning of the presentation, Libby updated Planning Board members on the school board's decision to hold a public vote in November on a proposal to use most of the Mary E. Taylor building for school district purposes, and to possibly house other uses. She said if voters approved the concept, Oak Point would produce site plan modifications and amendments as needed.

Libby said any plans for MET would not interfere with the construction timetable for the new middle school building.

The Planning Board will continue to review the site plan at its next meeting Feb. 15, at 5 p.m., in the Washington Street Conference Room.