Lawsuit brings halt to school construction in Burlingame

A San Mateo County judge has stopped the building of a new school in Burlingame saying that increased traffic may put children at risk. It was a big victory for neighbors who sued to stop the project at Hoover Elementary School.

The Hillsborough neighbors who filed the lawsuit are elated by the judge's decision. School district officials, on the other hand, are stunned because construction is well under way and they had hoped the new campus would accommodate hundreds of new students.

In April last year, the Burlingame School District broke ground for its newest school in half a century -- Hoover Elementary School. It was built in the 1930s then shut down in the late 70s because of declining enrollment. But now, the district is bulging at the seams. They thought re-opening the old school would accommodate much of the influx.

Hoover is on a hillside, straddling the border of Burlingame and Hillsborough. Expensive homes on the Hillsborough side line the street across from the school.

"Our worries from the beginning have been the safety of the kids being dropped off," Hillsborough resident Joe Haggerty told ABC7 News. He is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He and the others point to the dangerous narrow streets that front the school, like Summit Drive, with its blind curves.

Chris Fitzgerald is another neighbor and plaintiff. "Because you can see in the neighborhood, there are no sidewalks and there's windy roads here," she said.

Neighbors sued the district last spring, citing the risks to children, the traffic impact of hundreds of cars, and the overall effect on the neighborhood. The district said its own traffic studies showed no safety risk.

As the case wound its way through the courts, construction continued. It included a big new building. But on Thursday, the judge ordered the district to stop all construction, saying there needed to be an environmental impact report.

The decision surprised school officials. "How can a handful of people prevent a school from opening? These residents bought their residences across from the school. It was always intended to be a school,"
Burlingame School District Superintendent Maggie Macisaac said.

Macisaac says all construction will be stopped, but there's been no decision yet on what the district's next move will be.
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