ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Neighbors who oppose a new loop road at Jefferson Middle School have taken to their fences in recent months, posting banners and painting messages like “halt the loop” and “shame on you APS” on the side of their fences facing the school.
And with students returning to campus this week, APS is putting up temporary fences to block the messages.
“We went out there today and put up a screen fence, just so the kids didn’t have to see this graffiti,” said APS Chief Operations Officer Brad Winter, who described the situation as “out of control.”
APS can’t interfere with fences on private property, but it can put up screens on school district property.
Area resident Jake Buehler has a banner on his fence that directs passersby to visit “Halttheloop.com.” He said APS is infringing on neighbors’ speech.
“I think it’s a free speech issue,” Buehler said. “We’re allowed to have our voices heard that we oppose this project.”
The project in question is a loop road that would run behind Jefferson for student pick-up and drop-off. Jefferson is at the northeast corner of Girard and Lomas NE, and the proposed loop would take traffic from Girard, bring it behind the school and onto Lomas.
Winter said the loop is essential to make students safer. He said Jefferson has the most dangerous drop-off and pick-up situation in the district.
Residents who live adjacent to the campus say the loop would create unwanted pollution and possible congestion on Lomas. They also have expressed frustration with the process, saying APS planned the loop without getting input from the community or notifying them about district plans.
For now, the project is on hold while APS works with the city. Winter, who also serves on the City Council, said the council has brought in a consultant to study and revise the project design, if necessary. The district has already made some concessions to neighbors, like making the road smaller and adding a buffer of shrubs.
Buehler said he is suspicious about whether the district is truly withholding judgment on the project, because residents have recently seen small surveying flags and other signs the district is preparing the site for construction.
Winter said the flags mark where utilities are, and the district will not proceed with construction until it gets a go-ahead from the city. The proposed loop will be on APS property, but a city-issued “curb cut” permit is required for APS to cut into the city curbs on Lomas and Girard.