New school bus barn draws opposition

Riverhead bus plan in Riverside
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Under the current plan, buses would be leaving Enterprise Zone Drive (above) and turning onto Route 24 in Riverside.

Residents weren’t shy about voicing their frustrations Friday night over Riverhead School District’s proposal to demolish and replace the bus barn at its main campus with a new garage and maintenance facility outside Phillips Avenue School in Riverside.

Dozens were in attendance at the Crohan Center in Flanders to hear Riverhead school district Superintendent Nancy Carney address the controversial issue.

Ms. Carney called the proposal the most fiscally responsible option to replace the crumbling bus barn off Osborn Avenue, which houses the transportation and maintenance departments. First built in 1920 to house horses, the bus barn has fallen into despair. In March, the school board decided to relocate its entire 100-bus fleet and repair facility.

Moving the garage to Riverside would prevent buses from running through residential areas, Ms. Carney said.

“One of the criticisms of the Riverhead School District is that we wait for things to come to crisis before they’re dealt with,” she said. “You can basically see the sky through the roof of the bus barn. It is not a building that can be in existence a whole lot longer.”

Concerns over increased traffic the new facility would bring to Route 24 and pollution from idling buses invoked strong opposition from residents.

“I have been here 20 years and everything is being dumped on Flanders,” Flanders resident Carl Iacone said. “I think that this is something the school district is looking to dump on Flanders.”

Officials have considered using district-owned land on Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue and space at the EPCAL property in Calverton for the terminal, however both locations were found to be too far removed to be a viable option, Ms. Carney said.

“Between the carbon monoxide and traffic, I think you need to go back to the drawing board on it,” said William Shaw.

Residents are being asked to approve two propositions on the May 21 ballot to move forward with the new bus terminal.

Proposition 1 requests the creation of a transportation, maintenance and athletic fields capital reserve fund that could $10 million over 10 years.

The reserve fund’s first deposit would come from the sale of the farmland on Tuthills Lane. The district 27 acres on the east side of that road in 1965 and is now looking to sell the development rights to Suffolk County. Officials estimate the sale would generate more than $1 million.

Proposition 2 calls for using some of the sale proceeds to acquire two properties adjacent to Phillips Avenue Elementary School for no more than $480,000 combined. That land would be the site of the proposed bus barn.

James Green, a district bus driver said he has “a grave concern about traffic. You got to know that there is no way you can put all these buses on Flanders’ roads. It sounds like there is some homework you’ve neglected to do.”

Ms. Carney said Proposition 2 gives the district some options. “It is does not mean we’re going to use it as a bus garage,” she said. “It allows us to purchase the property.”

If the proposition passes, the district would need to conduct a traffic study before a bus garage could be built, Ms. Carney said.