The Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission voted Monday to support a Blaine County School District plan to reactivate beeping reverse alarms on school buses at the bus parking and maintenance facility, or bus barn, at 1250 Fox Acres Road.
An 80-foot-long wood fence will be built by the School District from the south end of an existing concrete barrier at the bus barn to deflect noise from neighbors.
For 16 years, the School District complied with a condition placed upon the facility prior to its construction by the city that required the use of an “interruption switch” that allowed bus drivers to shut off the alarms in the bus barn parking area only.
Neighbors, concerned about noise from the alarms, called for the bus barn prohibition in 2003. The reverse alarms have always been used whenever the buses are in operation around town.
The silencing of alarms at the bus barn appeased neighbors and allowed for construction at the current site, rather than farther away from the high school.
Despite the 2003 agreement, School District Transportation Supervisor Lance Doby ordered the alarms to be turned on at all times in April after he said a bus driver inadvertently turned an alarm off during an employee evaluation drive while backing up, 20 minutes after leaving the bus barn.
“For us this has always been about safety,” Doby said Monday.
Nearby residents, including Becki and Steve Keefer, protested Doby’s move earlier this summer, leading to a temporary break from alarm noise, which begins at 6:30 a.m. on school days.
A noise study presented to the commission Monday showed that the alarms produce 112 decibels at the back of the bus, and 50 decibels of sound at the property line. According to the noise study, the $3,800 wood fence will reduce noise levels by 12 decibels beyond the wall.
The P&Z voted to support Doby and overrule previous agreements to silence the alarms at the bus barn. The decision was made in light of Doby’s presentation Monday, which cited state law and insurance requirements that mandate the use of reverse alarms.
“The irony here is that the School District first proposed this [interruption switch use],” P&Z Chairwoman Janet Fugate said.
P&Z Commissioner Richard Pogue said the city had no choice but to go back on its word in light of new information.
“I am concerned about the insurance situation,” Pogue said. “We must comply 100 percent with that.”
The P&Z’s decision can be appealed within 28 days to the City Council.