Vacating Fir Street plan resurfaces

Sequim School District officials urged the city council to consider vacating portions of Fir Street and Second Avenue in the vicinity of Helen Haller Elementary School during Monday morning's council study session.

"My request is that you give it serious consideration. It's an issue that's not going to go away," said Tom Schaafsma, chairman of the district's facilities review committee.

Sequim School District Superintendent Bill Bentley proposed vacating Fir Street from the east end of the Community School gymnasium to Third Avenue and Second Avenue between Alder and Fir streets.

The proposed street vacations would establish a safe crossing of Fir and Second streets, create a usable building site and establish a continuous campus, he said.

Bentley said an estimated 280 students cross the street daily plus those participating in numerous evening activities.

The street is dangerous as a walking route for students because of telephone poles that reduce the width of the street's shoulder, parked cars and the lack of sidewalks, he said.

Schaafsma said the district faces two challenges.

One is that the Sequim Community School building is 60 years old, which means it needs either major renovation or replacement, he said.

The other is enrollment growth at Helen Haller Elementary, a building that is 40 years old itself, Schaafsma said.

So the proposal is to replace Helen Haller on the Community School site and shift that

building's programs to Helen Haller, he said.

It's critical to decide this issue because the city is considering a stoplight at Fir Street and

Sequim Avenue, which would be expensive, Schaafsma said.

There's historical precedent for blocking off Fir Street during school hours, he noted. A new connector would allow access to Second and Fir streets, Schaafsma said. Bentley said vacating the street would provide better access to the city's infrastructure located underneath. The property would be configured to allow emergency vehicle access.

Bentley said cars "reasonably proceed" along Fir Street but sometimes travel at upwards of 40 mph.

Councilor Susan Lorenzen asked if the vacated street would be used mostly for pedestrians. Bentley said yes, the same way it has been used for festivals.

Lorenzen said a larger crosswalk with diagonal striping would be less expensive for the short term. Bentley said he had talked to acting Public Works director Bill Bullock about that very thing because that's where the students walk anyway. Councilor Walt Schubert said the city should consider closing the street during the school day.

Bentley responded, "We've thought about that, it would be an improvement. It helped but some people want to drive through anyway."

This is his first year but it's a really unusual arrangement to have traffic through a campus, it's not safe, Bentley said.

"Personally I think (the street vacation) is the right thing to do for the future because (the street is) a major transportation route through a campus," he said.

Sequim Mayor Laura Dubois said, "I'm glad you're looking at these issues. I've always considered Fir Street to be a safety issue."

Steve Vogel, chief of Clallam County Fire District No. 3, said this is not the first time vacating this section of Fir Street has been addressed.

The fire department doesn't use the street often unless it's an emergency because they don't like to travel in front of schools, he said.

But there are a few things of which the council and the district need to be aware, Vogel said.

The school buildings and the gymnasium have no sprinklers, so the fire department needs 360-degree access to those buildings and the fire hydrants must be maintained, he said.

He would like to work with the various agencies on this, Vogel said.

Bentley said he hadn't spoken with residents living along the street sections proposed for vacation.

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