Gulf Shores Councilman Steve Jones was headed to the beach on Aug. 9 for his daily trip to shoot photos when he got behind a school bus.
“It had a municipal tag on it,” Jones said. “I said, ‘those are our buses. It’s finally here.’”
Gulf Shores City Schools completed a journey started in November of 2017 by welcoming students for the first time on Aug. 9. A group of well-baked city leaders and school officials gathered in front of the elementary school to have a ribbon-cutting on a sweltering morning.
But despite the sweat popping up on most brows, there were smiles all around. Smiles that the day finally arrived and smiles that an ambitious plan to revamp traffic flows and improve parking in about 70 days worked swimmingly.
“They were paving the bus loop out back at 9 o’clock last night,” Superintendent Matt Akin said. “When you look at starting June 1, very ambitious. Not just the paving, but what you can’t see below ground with the drainage. Before the drainage from the roof just splashed on the ground. A lot of work has gone in to making that happen.”
The work is still not finished but enough was in place to open the doors and smoothly get all the students in and out again.
“We’re about 90 percent finished,” Akin said. “The contractor really stepped up and got a lot of stuff done. Two days ago it looked like we were going to be ready, but it didn’t look like we were going to be this ready.”
One of the biggest changes involved traffic flow. Previously all traffic to the elementary and middle schools entered and exited through the same pattern, causing waiting parents to line the side of East Second Street. The new pattern calls for elementary parents to enter and exit from East 16th Avenue and middle school parents to use East 15th Avenue. New traffic loops were added to the front of each school so the two flows never intersect.
“The car flow, the parents, the atmosphere, just the whole morning was flawless,” Gulf Shores spokesperson Grant Brown said. “It’s just a huge success. I don’t think it’s a surprise. We did some really good media coverage that helped a lot putting out the maps. The traffic flow pattern with the signage on the road so middle schoolers knew where to go, elementary schoolers and the high schoolers. It just flowed smoothly.”
On the first day in any year, there’s extra traffic as many parents of new students want to walk their children in on the first day of school. That was handled flawlessly as well, Brown said. Akin said a plan by the elementary school to have orientation for kindergarten and pre-K parents at 8:30 a.m. after the initial school traffic cleared helped as well.
While it’s obvious what’s changed on the outside, Akin said even more was done inside ramping up the system’s academics.
“All the work that happened on the outside doesn’t compare to what’s gone on instructionally and what’s gone on to change things,” Akin said.
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