Wade Malloy says Southlake Christian Academy had to do something.
The private school off N.C. 73 in Huntersville had only 23 students when it opened 15 years ago.
Now, with almost 900 students, Malloy said, cars and school buses often face tricky, unsafe situations moving in and out of the school.
But the N.C. Department of Transportation maintained that the traffic around the school did not warrant a traffic signal, based on vehicle counts and safety records. N.C. DOT spokeswoman Jen Thompson said the fact that Southlake Christian Academy is a private school was also a factor in the decision because it is not supported by public money.
After months of lobbying and debate, the state and the private school reached a compromise.
Southlake could have a stoplight, state DOT officials said, if the school agreed to pay for it.
So, the school shelled out at least $250,000 for a stoplight at N.C. 73 and Hagers Ferry Road. Installation of the light was completed earlier this month.
“We were shocked that we had to pay for it,” said Malloy, a senior pastor at the school. “It's not like we have an extra $250,000 in our pockets.”
The school took out a loan for the light, and will repay that by raising student fees over a three-year period.
Malloy said the final fee increase hasn't been determined yet. But not including interest or changes in enrollment, the figure should roughly equate to at least $100 in extra fees per student over the next three years.
“It's very uncommon to see a private entity fund a stop light,” said Max Buchanan, the Huntersville town engineer and public works director. “The DOT doesn't want a stop light at every intersection. But we tried to help them show the DOT that it was something that was needed.”
Malloy said the school was already trying things to alleviate traffic. Elementary, middle school and high school students all arrive and dismiss at different times in the day, and the school also added more bus routes.
“We really tried to show the DOT the safety concerns we had, especially at peak times,” Buchanan said.
Malloy said the traffic light could help when the school decides to expand and build more buildings on campus.
“We're just delighted to have it,” Malloy said. “We think this will make our students and our families safer.”