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Schools want new parent lanes

To determine who owns what properties in the woods off the east side of Bogue Chitto Attendance Center, it takes a little of the old and the new.

District 3 Supervisor Nolan Earl Williamson can figure it out using a pair of tools divided by a century — a modern map program on his phone fed with data compiled by the county engineer showing acres and ownership, current and precise; and a rolled-up plat map recreated from records of the “Hamlet of Bogue Chitto,” first printed in 1902 using the data of a surveyor long, long dead.

With the plat unrolled and weighted down in the corners, he holds his phone over it to pinch and zoom and point out some oddities, like the fact the narrow strip of land between the Bobcats’ football and baseball fields is county property, not owned by the school, despite the concrete and bleachers sitting on it. Another thin strip of county-owned land separates the football field from the kindergarten playground, though both are built on school-owned land. Other small pieces of hamlet land are scattered across the backside of campus, intermingling with school property as though scattered across it by a child.

“It goes back a long time. In Bogue Chitto, there’s houses built on streets and garages built on streets, you name it,” Williamson said. “There are two streets north of Monticello Avenue, and that baseball field is built on one, and the football field is built on one. There’s streets in there from years and years ago.”

One of those streets — Johnson Street — is different. While the hamlet and school rose up on top of pieces of public property here and there over the last 116 years, a north-running extension of Johnson Street remains publicly-owned and unobstructed, stretching off into the woods from Monticello Street between two private residences and extending all the way across the backside of campus.

It’s there, on the unfinished strip of Johnson Street, where county and school officials are considering a project to construct a new road to carry the school’s parent pick-up line. Currently, parents drive into the main parking lot on Monticello Street, backing up that street to the east and, more dangerously, crossing the intersection of Hwy. 51 to back-up down Bogue Chitto Road to the west.

“We’ve got an efficient way to do it, but we still backup down Monticello, and it causes a little bit of an issue, especially around the post office,” said Bogue Chitto Attendance Center Principal Scott Merrell. “There’s no real good solution, but we’re working on it.”

The first option is the construction of a half-mile road from Johnson Street around the backside of campus that would connect with Old Hwy. 51 Southeast — the short piece of the old highway from Monticello Street to the gas station in front of the school — at the edge of the new gymnasium.

But that project has problems on the drawing board. The half-mile project would go through deep woods and hills and swampy areas, and the outlet near the gym adjacent to the Bogue Chitto Water Association office is narrow, perhaps too narrow for road-building. The route might also need to cross private property, and the existing property from 1902 isn’t much to work with, Williamson said.

“Them streets was built for horse and buggies,” he said. “It’d take a lot of money to put a road back there.”

The district has $6.5 million in construction funds, but that money has to be shared among four schools that have identified around 40 other needed projects. Williamson has $720,270 in his district road fund for Fiscal Year 2019, but every dollar is spoken for.

Instead of a new road, Merrell prefers building a multi-lane inlet on the south lawn of the elementary building, adjacent to Monticello Street, that would be wide enough to accommodate most of the traffic blocking Monticello Street and release them out onto Old Hwy. 51. But the lawn sits, in places, 10 feet higher than the street, and is built on a steep berm. With the U.S. Post Office next door, options for stretching out the incline are limited.

The school’s third option is to close off Old Hwy. 51 during the morning and afternoon rush, making it a one-way street for parents. That option would be relatively cheap and easy, but would lack the accommodation offered by new roads.

Pick-up lines are a growing problem at three of the four schools in the Lincoln County School District, as all but West Lincoln’s stretch and back up onto major highways. Loyd Star’s parents operate between two curves in Hwy. 550, though the addition of a westbound turning lane has helped somewhat. Enterprise parents back up across Hwy. 583 between two hills.

All three of those schools requested the construction of new parent pick-up lines earlier this year when submitting a long-range list of construction needs. Loyd Star is banking on the acquisition of a chunk of property from the next-door Norton Estate — likely by eminent domain — that will connect the campus to another large tract of district-owned land to the northeast. The school is lobbying for a new sports complex to be built there, along with a new road that would connect the backside of campus with Jackson-Liberty Drive Northwest where the parent line could be moved.

Enterprise needs help from the state to get its parents off the highway — principal Terry Brister said the Mississippi Department of Transportation is considering a reconstruction of Hwy. 583 to the north and south of campus to flatten out the two hills that trap the campus in its valley. A turning lane could also be part of the plan, he said.

What Brister wants is the same thing the other schools want — a dedicated parent road to the backside of campus, coming off Topisaw Drive, skirting the softball field and rejoining Hwy. 583 to the south. The project was No. 3 on his priority list earlier this year.

“We’re waiting to see how it goes with MDOT, how quick it takes place before we do anything like that,” Brister said. “When they make their move, it will give us an idea and we can make some arrangements.”