Updated 9:15 a.m. Dec. 4
Making areas around schools safer continues to be a priority for the City of Greenfield and the Greenfield and Whitnall school districts, but as municipalities and districts are charged with tightening their belts, those improvements aren’t always feasible.
So when Director of Neighborhood Services Richard Sokol found out the city was one of 17 projects awarded grant money for Safe Routes to School projects, his excitement was understandable.
The state announced grants totaling $3.3 million as part of a federally funded reimbursement program that encourages children in grades K-8 to walk or bike to school, when safe and practical.
“We are proud to partner with local communities to develop safe bicycling and walking accommodations for our students,” Governor Scott Walker said in a statement. “Promoting these forms of transportation creates healthy habits at a young age.”
Greenfield was awarded $172,962 for infrastructure projects at Elm Dale and Glenwood elementary schools and Greenfield Middle School. Sokol said he and his team had applied for $400,000, but was delighted with the funds the city did get.
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He said it is too early to determine exactly what will be done at each school but in the grant application, his team indicated crosswalks and sidewalk improvements were needed at the middle school, sidewalks, crosswalks and “neck downs” — the narrowing of the roadway to force vehicles to slow down — would improve Elm Dale and “neck downs” and cross walks would benefit Glenwood.
“At each of the three schools, we‘re also hoping to do flashing school zone signs that will alert drivers of active school zone areas several hundred feet before they approach the school,” Sokol said.
Those flashing signs would be controlled by school officials and would flash for as long as an hour to remind drivers they have to pay particularly close attention while driving.
Sokol said the scope of the grant dollars does not include significant or massive sidewalk projects, though some sidewalk work could be included. He believed terms of the grant money also included educating students about safely crossing streets.
The city’s application, which was completed with the input of a committee that included representatives from both the Greenfield and Whitnall school districts, included projects at both of the city’s middle schools and all its public elementary schools, Sokol said.
“I wish we were able to address all the concerns at all schools,” Sokol said. “I suspect this will be the first step of several over the years to address all the issues.”
The grant requires that project planning and design be done in 2013 and construction in 2014.
"Anything we can do to improve safety for students, staff and citizens is greatly appreciated," Greenfield Superintendent Conrad Farner said. "While the grant amount is far from what is needed, I agree completely with Rick Sokol that the funds are most welcome and a critical step in the process of improving safety and wellness for our community.
"Rick and the individuals on the Safe Routes to School committee did a fantastic job."
Coincidentally, the city has also budgeted to make improvements Maple Grove Elementary in 2013, using redevelopment block grant funds to widen roads to alleviate congestion near that school. So, by 2014, as many as four of the city’s schools could have much improved safety features.
"This is great," Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke said. "With all of the elections behind us, and hopefully the politics, it's great to see government in Madison doing things that will have a positive impact in our community. I applaud the governor's commitment with this grant to help make it safer for kids get to school.
"There is, of course, always more that can be done, but this helps a lot."