By SHELLEY TERRY - firstname.lastname@example.org
Children walking to the Ashtabula Lakeside Elementary Campus soon will have a safer route to school.
The city and the Ashtabula Area City Schools District learned Monday that they have been awarded a Safe Routes to School grant, part of $7.2 million for 58 different projects going to local communities throughout Ohio.
The grant money will create safe, convenient and fun opportunities for Ashtabula children to bicycle and walk to and from the Wade Avenue schools, City Manager Jim Timonere said at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Construction will begin sometime next year and will be completed by 2015.
“The program is designed to reverse the decline in children walking and bicycling to schools,” Timonere said, noting he got the news shortly before the meeting and did not know the exact amount of Ashtabula’s award.
The Ohio Safe Routes to School program is funded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
“Our goal with these projects is to help communities improve safety,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray in a press release. “We believe the Safe Routes to School program is a great way to encourage safer behavior by working with local communities and their kids.”
The first step in developing the SRTS program in Ashtabula, which will include new sidewalks and bike paths, was to create a school travel plan. The plan was a written document outlining the community’s intentions for enabling students to walk or bicycle as they travel to and from the new elementary campus.
Several community leaders, parents, teachers and school administrators came together two years ago at Harbor Topky Library to make this plan a reality. Ashtabula resident Kevin Grippe led the charge.
Surveys were sent to parents of K-8 children in the school district regarding their opinions on the current walking and biking environment.
Grippe surveyed the students who attend the campus schools, asking what they would like to see in a travel plan. The children were not shy as they suggested green and gold sidewalks, Lakeside Dragon decor and giving students who walked or biked to school “no homework” passes.
In January, a team of teachers, parents and community leaders walked to the campus from nearby neighborhoods to decide where the best place would be to build the sidewalks. They focused on the areas within two miles of the campus, he said.
January also marked the beginning of the school district’s new minimum busing policy, designed to save the district $750,000, and allow the district to end the year in the black, according to a resolution passed by the school board in September. This meant the district eliminated transportation for students in grades 9-12, and students in grades K-8 who live less than two miles from school.
Ward 2 Councilman August Pugliese, who also worked on the SRTS project, said he was pleased to hear the grant was approved.
Council President J.P. Ducro IV said, “That’s great news.”
The Safe Routes to School program gave $584 million to 10,400 U.S. schools from 2005 to 2010, according to its web site.