Riverhead Charter School superintendent Raymond Ankrum dons a bright orange vest every morning and afternoon and walks into traffic on Middle Country Road in front of his school campus in Calverton.
Ankrum starts and ends the school day at the K-8 school working as a traffic control officer.
It’s not in his job description, but the charter school chief says vehicles, including school buses carrying children, can’t safely enter or exit the school without someone stopping traffic on the busy thoroughfare.
The posted speed limit is 50 mph. The road is heavily traveled and the school is surrounded by a post office, a busy deli and a gas station/convenience store. Its entrance is less than a quarter-mile from a busy intersection traffic engineers consider “failing” because it can’t handle the high volume of traffic passing through it.
The Riverhead Police Department used to have a crossing guard stationed at the charter school, but the guard was injured last year and Ankrum says the town told him it lacks the staff to man the post. So Ankrum puts on his vest, grits his teeth and walks into traffic, carrying bright orange plastic batons to get the attention of drivers.
He launched an online petition last week hoping to bring the situation to the attention of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller acknowledged that the town previously had an officer at the site to control traffic.
“We had a crossing guard there for years, not to get students across the road because nobody walks to the school. It was for traffic control,” Hegermiller said. But it’s too dangerous for anyone to stand in the road there, he said. The posted speed limit is 50 mph.
The police chief said it’s “crazy” that the posted speed limit on the road in front of the school is 50 mph.
“Even without the school there, that’s too fast,” Hegermiller said, noting that the immediate area is developed with uses that have a lot of vehicles entering the traffic flow in the immediate vicinity of the school, including the Calverton post office, a deli and a gas station. “And it’s what — 500 yards from the light? It’s just insane.”
The State Department of Transportation sets the speed limits in the town. Hegermiller said he’s asked the state DOT to reduce the speed limit in the area — there’s nothing posted to indicate it’s a school zone. But the state “flat-out rejected it,” he said.
“We’ve been arguing that issue with the state for as long as the crossing guard has been there,” Hegermiller said.
And the matter is definitely one that the school superintendent should not be taking into his own hands, Hegermiller said.
“He’s not authorized to direct traffic,” the chief said. “We’ve told him that. He’s not supposed to be out there doing that.”
The police chief said he and other town officials met with Ankrum and members of his staff last year and pointed out that existing cross-easements with adjacent property owners would allow traffic from the school to exit onto Edwards Avenue, which the chief said would be “safer.”
Hegermiller said the school never got back to the town about it.
“We also suggested they make the exit onto Rt. 25 right turn-only,” Hegermiller said.
There’s no question it’s a bad situation that needs to be remedied, he said.