Silverwood Plantation residents offered what a spokesman called an “easy solution” to the Effingham County Board of Education’s request for gated communities to make access easier for school buses.
Joined by several Silverwood homeowners, board of directors secretary Wade Britt told the school board Thursday that Silverwood would outfit every school bus in Effingham County with a bar-coded sticker programmed to open the gate to the Rincon subdivision.
“We want to find a solution that will keep Silverwood gated,” Britt said. “Many of us bought homes specifically because it was a gated community.”
In June, school system transportation director Jimmy Helmly requested that Silverwood and other gated communities leave their gates open at the times school buses enter the neighborhoods to pick up or drop off students. He stated that sometimes the devices communities provide to open their gates — cards, key fobs or clickers — have failed to work properly.
“We’ve sat there until somebody came through and snuck through behind them,” Helmly said. “We’ve done that this week.”
The stickers for the school buses will be the same type Silverwood already provides to local law enforcement and emergency vehicles. School board Vice Chair Troy Alford made a motion to have the stickers on every bus in the school system.
The board passed the motion 4-1, with Beth Helmly opposed. Helmly asked why the gate couldn’t simply be programmed to be open at certain times in the morning and afternoon to accommodate bus traffic.
Britt explained that Silverwood’s gate consists of two parts — a sliding gate that is closed from midnight-5:30 a.m. and a barrier gate that opens for each vehicle passing through. The barrier gate is not capable of being set on a timer, he said.
“For us to change out our gate system would cost us in excess of $20,000,” Britt said. “So we feel like the easy solution is just to provide a decal.”
The decals will cost Silverwood about $4 apiece, according to Britt. A specific timetable was not given at the meeting, but Britt told Jimmy Helmly “we’ll come to you” to equip all the buses with the necessary stickers.
“And you’re going to guarantee that it’ll work,” Helmly said.
“That’s our expectation, yes, sir,” Britt responded.
Silverwood resident Sherri Gordy suggested that school buses have had only a “few isolated” problems getting into the community. She offered to be a contact person should a bus driver not be able to enter Silverwood.
“You can call my house at 6 in the morning if you can’t get in, because we’re up,” Gordy said. “My kids are out there waiting on the bus.”
Rob Lanham, who has two children currently attending Effingham County schools, took his offer a step further. If a pattern of problems emerge from the bar-coded stickers, Lanham said, he will pay out of his own pocket to install a new automated system at the entrance.
“If we’re seeing a small pattern — two is a pattern — and they cannot get in the gate, I will personally pay to put an automation device on that gate that opens it up at the early time and then opens it up again in the afternoon,” Lanham said. “You can hold me to it.”
Parent and Silverwood resident Joanna Cartrette questioned whether the school system’s request to keep the gates open was based on any actual data, or just on discussions among certain people. Jimmy Helmly said his office does not have the time and resources to compile detailed statistics regarding each gated community in the county.
Superintendent Randy Shearouse said some bus drivers had told him about problems they encountered from time to time entering gated communities. Shearouse supported Cartrette’s suggestion to be able to provide concrete data.
“Let’s keep track over a 20-day period and see how many times there are problems, and then revisit it at that point,” he said.