BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — After St. John’s Prep upped its contribution to make travel safer on area streets, the Planning Board last night approved its plans to add a middle school program and construct a sizable high-school building on its Spring Street campus.
After the public hearing last night, the Planning Board unanimously approved the school’s expansion plans after it offered money for a traffic light and other improvements at the intersection of Summer and Maple streets (Route 62) and a contribution to create a left-turn lane at Nichols and Summer streets. The school agreed to make improvements at the intersection of Summer and North streets on its own.
Last night’s vote also gave final approval to the all-boys Catholic preparatory school’s plan to build a 73,875 square-foot Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) high school. To be set on what were the school’s tennis courts, the new building will resemble Xavier Hall, whose spire serves as the school’s symbol. The new, red brick building will feature pitched roof lines and dormers, blending in with campus architecture.
The board also approved the conversion of Brother Benjamin Hall, which is presently used for high school classes, into a middle school for 300 students in grades six, seven and eight. The school hopes to accomplish all of this by September 2015. The school would have approximately 1,450 students when the expansion is done.
Planning and Human Services Director Karen Nelson and Danvers attorney Nancy McCann, who represents the school, both said the agreement was hammered out yesterday afternoon, with McCann saying it took a lot of work to do this in such a tight time frame.
Last week, selectmen voted to have Town Manager Wayne Marquis negotiate with the school regarding its offer of $25,000 to add a light at the intersection of Maple and Summer streets, where a left turn from Summer Street onto the busy road during peak traffic times is difficult.
The negotiations resulted in the school offering $47,000 to a fund set up to construct a light at Summer and Maple streets. The town has plans to construct a traffic light there in 2017. A developer of an assisted-living facility in the area had already contributed $25,000 for a light there in 1999 during the prior permitting process, Nelson said after the meeting. The cost of the light is estimated at $450,000.
The school also agreed to contribute $13,000 to stripe the eastbound lane of Route 62 and make other improvements in the area to make it easier for cars to turn onto Nichols Street, which leads to Spring Street and the Prep’s campus. Some said cars already form a left lane there now.
The school also offered to pay for road paint and signage improvements to the intersection of North and Summer streets on its own.
These improvements would include a left-turn lane, but there are no plans for a traffic island on North Street, said Project Manager Vinod Kalikiri, a traffic engineer for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. of Watertown, the firm doing the traffic studies for the school.
McCann said the school was “very pleased that the town was able to work with us, and we came up with a very good mitigation plan.”
The school also plans to make traffic improvements on campus, consolidating crosswalks, changing the flow of parking lots and parent drop-off areas, and creating a curb cut on the northbound side of Summer Street for middle school buses. The middle school students will be in Brother Benjamin Hall, so they will not be crossing Summer Street as much. The school has purchased speed radar signs for Spring Street and will be providing crossing guards during peak hours.
Neighbors offered some critique of the traffic plan.
Resident John Clay asked why a light was not planned for Nichols and Summer streets, given that about 400 cars take a left across Route 62 traffic, and about 95 do so from Route 62 onto Summer Street.
Kalikiri said lights meant to help traffic turn left from a side street are given priority, and the light at Summer and Maple will do just that. A signal at Summer and Maple will also create a gap in traffic for those taking a left onto Nichols Street, he added.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.