BERKELEY – A new convenience store across a four lane highway from a high school drew concern while it was in the works. Now that it’s open, officials said they are keeping an eye on safety in the area.
The 7-Eleven opened at the intersection of Forest Hills and Grand Central parkways. There was already an existing traffic light there.
Superintendent Triantafillos Parlapanides said that before the store opened, police and school officials met to plan how to address the traffic and kids going there after school.
During the school day, teachers are on duty, and kids can’t leave, he said. During football games, they’ll have an officer at the light. Students are supposed to go home and return for the game. Kids being kids, some of them stay around.
There were two accidents on the store’s opening day, he said. They are watching traffic and the students, and will make changes to policy when needed.
The circumstances and the severity of the crashes were not available at press time.
Central Regional High School Principal Douglass Corbett reiterated that students are not allowed to leave the campus for lunch. The fact that there’s only a 25-minute lunch period would make it hard to go anywhere, even some place so close.
Middle School Principal Joseph Firetto said the school is farther away, and since there are obviously no drivers, it hasn’t really impacted the students.
Meanwhile, the 7-Eleven has been trying to be a good neighbor, school officials said. There was talk of providing teachers with free cups of coffee once a week and buying a sign on the field. At a recent Board of Education meeting, they donated $711 to the ROTC to help pay for their attendance at the National Parade in Washington, D.C.
Sam Ekhwat, the franchisee, said the store opened on Aug. 27, but had a second grand opening on the first day of school.
He said he didn’t see any issues. Students stop by after school or after athletic practices, stay for a few minutes and move on. Some students work there.
Mike Chris, field consultant for 7-Eleven, said he hasn’t heard of any safety issues.
Chris didn’t know how this location came to the attention of the corporation. Ekhwat said he wasn’t involved in the development either.
Locals were surprised when the 7-Eleven was approved directly across from the high school. The property used to have a house on it, and the property was zoned for residential use only.
Regardless, the store appeared before the Zoning Board asking for permission to build. Nearby residents spoke about traffic, fear of kids being struck by cars, and the crime that a convenience store could bring.
Zoning Board members said that if they voted against the 7-Eleven, then the store would appeal it up to higher courts. Then, they would likely win and the town would lose any control of what the property would be like. If they approved it on the local level, they could at least have some say in the design.
The board imposed higher sound reducing fencing, a more neighborhood-like appearance to the signs, a limit on when some deliveries could be made, and other concessions.
At the time, Lou Tuminaro, a Zoning Board member who is also the president of Central’s Board of Education, said that there are hundreds of cars on the road around dismissal. Some of them are beginning drivers.
“I don’t think it’s safe enough for the students,” he said. “So, if something happens to a child in the neighborhood, you’re liable?”
A representative from 7-Eleven had answered that the company had opened stores near schools before.