A drive down Blakely Road weekdays around 7:30 a.m. is bound to include a slowdown. Cars queue up as parents and students wait to turn left onto Laker Lane into the high school.
“There’s this really nice community thing that happens: People in the right lane stop and let them in,” superintendent Amy Minor said.
But soon, this may no longer be the case. With help from federal highway funds, the town plans to construct a center-turn lane at the intersection, alleviating increased traffic from arrival, dismissal and other school functions.
The catch: Voters must first grant the district permission to give the town an 8-foot-strip of land near the school entrance to enable the right-of-way project.
Normally, the school board could simply vote to give the easement to the town. But back in 1971, the land was incorrectly surveyed, Minor said. The school claims the land through “adverse possession” – squatters’ rights, essentially – because it wasn’t included in the 1972 deed from George Crocker and Woodland Cottages.
Crocker is now dead, and Woodland Cottages are no more, making it impossible to execute the easement as the deeded owner of the land.
As such, the November ballot will include an article asking voters to consent to the land deal, a move town manager Aaron Frank deemed “the most cautious approach.”
“The school board and the district would absolutely want this to happen,” Minor said. “No money will exchange hands; basically we’re transferring ownership.”
With voters’ approval of the conveyance, the project will be completed next summer, according to public works director Bryan Osborne. The estimated cost is $500,000, but it would be funded with federal transportation dollars, he said.
“I’m not sure there’s a downside,” Frank said, adding the project benefits the community by easing traffic flow and the school by making entrance into its grounds more efficient.
If voters don’t approve the measure, Osborne said the project would likely still be completed.
“The town is committed to doing this project,” he said, adding it’s part of a circ-alternative plan developed by Colchester after former Gov. Peter Shumlin abandoned the circumferential highway project.
If the measure fails, the selectboard would use its statutory authority to obtain the easement through friendly condemnation –“friendly,” because the landowner wants to dispose of the land. But, Osborne said, it’s doubtful it will come to that.