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Will high school get a bus line?

Proposal - TriMet officials say they'd be glad to consider it

City officials hope that plans for a new high school health center will aid their efforts to get TriMet to extend the only bus line serving Forest Grove.

Currently the #57 bus stops (or starts, depending on which way you're heading) at the intersection of 19th Avenue and B Street, just south of downtown Forest Grove.

The idea of extending the line in Forest Grove, either north to the high school or west to housing developments along Gales Creek Road, has been rolling around for several months but hasn't had much traction outside the city.

On Monday night, however, proponents used a meeting with TriMet officials to make a renewed push.

City councilors noted that thanks to a recent state grant, Forest Grove High School will open a 1,600-square-foot health center within a year. The center will offer preventive medical care, mental health services and dental care to uninsured and underinsured students from all schools in the district - many who come from low-income families.

The problem is that the center, to be built next to the school's tennis courts along Nichols Lane, will be more than a mile from the nearest bus stop,

'We're trying to find a way for the students who need the services to get to the high school so they can take advantage of the services,' Councilor Pete Truax told transit officials, who made presentations during Monday night's council meeting.

The high school's distance from public transportation is unusual in Washington County.

More than a mile

TriMet records show that of the 22 Washington County high schools operating in the transit agency's service area (which doesn't include Banks or Gaston), only three are more than a mile from a bus or light rail line.

The other two, in addition to Forest Grove High School, are Liberty High School in Hillsboro and Tualatin High School.

Of the others, 17 are within 500 yards of a transit line and several schools have bus stops on or adjacent to their campuses.

TriMet officials said one concern about extending bus lines to high schools is that they usually have just two peak demand times each weekday (at the start and end of the school day).

The health center at FGHS, which likely will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., could make an extension of the #57 line more attractive.

The only school-based health clinic currently operating in Washington County is at Merlo Station High School in Beaverton, a short walk from a light-rail stop. A second clinic, planned to open this spring at Tigard High School, will be right on the #76 bus line.

High school officials say that even without the clinic, a bus line would be a big benefit to students and parents.

Although the district's bus service shuttles students to and from the high school, many events - from music concerts and plays to prep sports and even practices - take place after the late 'activities' bus is gone.

'It could be a positive thing for some of our student athletes,' said Athletic Director Doug Thompson. 'I've seen some of them walking down B Street toward the bus after practices.'

How many would take advantage of TriMet? 'We probably wouldn't know until we tried it,' Thompson said.

Connie Potter, district spokeswoman noted that parents might also appreciate a bus line on evenings when there's a concert, play or game.

'For a family from Cornelius, it's a long way to the high school.'

TriMet staffer Aaron Deas said he wasn't aware of the health center plans until Monday's meeting with city officials.

Deas said that if the city makes an official request, he and other TriMet analysts would study current bus ridership numbers and other data to figure out whether an extension of the #57 bus line pencils out.

'We may come back and say the numbers don't justify it,' Deas said. 'But at least people would know we took a serious look at the proposal.'

Even if the numbers are good, Deas warned that a Forest Grove project would have to compete with other worthy requests for additional service.

'That takes a fair amount of time,' he said. 'And if often comes down to money.'