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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Sylvania may apply for Safe Routes grant to ease walk to school

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sylvania City Council has directed administrators to review the recommendations in a recent Safe Routes to School report to determine whether the city agrees with its listed priorities before a consultant submits an application for state grant funding.

Laurie Adams, a principal of Maumee-based DGL Consulting Engineers, told council during a committee-of-the-whole meeting last week that crosswalk, sign, and traffic signal upgrades suggested in the report would cost about $300,000, well within the $500,000 maximum the Ohio Department of Transportation awarded to any one community during this year's round of Safe Routes to School grants.

The federally funded program aims to make it easier and safer for grade-school and junior-high children to walk or bike to school.

Yet one thing the grants won't pay for is wages for crossing guards, and council appears to be on the verge of canceling its funding for a guard who escorted schoolchildren across busy McCord Road last year at an intersection near two of the four schools covered by the study.

As council had no regular meeting last week, it took no action on crossing-guard funding, but council members Doug Haynam and Todd Milner both expressed opposition to continuing the guard at city expense, even though Ms. Adams said the guard's presence was identified by parents surveyed for her report as a key reason they allowed their children to walk or bike to school.

"If parents are committed to doing it, then they'll be there" as volunteers, Mr. Haynam said. "If they can't do it, then they're not committed to [their kids] walking to school."

School officials attending the meeting said crossing-guard volunteers at Highland Elementary School had become unreliable enough that the district paid a school parent for the final month of the 2009-2010 school year.

"With parent volunteers, you have a lot of inconsistency," said Jeff Robbins, McCord Junior High School principal.

Nancy Crandell, the school district's spokesman, said it was unknown if a paid guard would be provided at Highland during the coming school year, which starts Sept. 1.

Mayor Craig Stough said he expected a city decision on continuing to pay for a guard along McCord at Coppersmith Road and Gaines Mill Drive during council's next meeting, scheduled for Monday.

Analyses of bicycle and pedestrian routes and volume at Highland, McCord, and Sylvan and Maplewood elementaries - the four eligible schools within the city of Sylvania - were included in the Safe Routes to School study, for which the city paid $15,000. The completed study makes the city eligible for project funding.

Ms. Adams noted that vast majorities of the student bodies at the grade schools, as well as significant numbers of McCord pupils, live within a mile of school and thus are considered by the state of Ohio to be candidates for walking or cycling.

Yet 65.5 percent of the four schools' students normally ride buses, and another 23.3 percent are driven to school, according to study surveys. Barely 11 percent arrive on foot, bicycles, or skateboards, Ms. Adams said.

The DGL report recommends, for the longer term, building sidewalks in many Sylvania neighborhoods that lack them. But for a first grant proposal, the city should focus on improving crosswalks and their associated signs to provide better locations and visibility to motorists, Ms. Adams said.

"The money's out there, and it's available," she said, noting that Oregon is working on its second round of Safe Routes to School projects, and Perrysburg has also participated.

Councilman Mark Luetke questioned, however, whether such money would be well spent, considering that even at pedestrian-friendly Sylvan Elementary, 83 percent of pupils arrive in motor vehicles.

"Is this a teachable thing, or is it the 'walk ethic' of the family?" he said. "This [Safe Routes to School] is social engineering to some degree, and I question whether that should be our role."

Laura Megeath, a Williamsburg Drive resident and a Sylvan parent, said that while she supports the city pursuing Safe Routes to School grants, she's worried that the initial focus on safety along McCord Road has been diluted in the consultants' report.

"Safe crossing of McCord is the key issue, and that seemed to be secondary in the report," she said. "I'd like to make sure that the greatest danger should be the one that gets addressed first."



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