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Published: Wednesday, 4/20/2011

Sylvania schools gets $202,465 for safety upgrades

'Safe Routes' work won't occur until next year, official says


Pedestrian safety concerns on McCord Road were the inspiration for a Safe Routes to School study last year in Sylvania, but a list of projects for which the Ohio Department of Transportation recently awarded a grant provides the greatest funding for improvements near a school on Erie Street.

The upgrades planned near Highland Elementary include two electronic speed-measuring signs, budgeted at $7,500 each, and flashing beacons activated by push buttons at crosswalks near the school that will cost $15,350.

Countdown timers for crosswalks at nearby intersections with traffic lights are part of the $51,584 package, along with new signs, enhanced crosswalk stripes, and a $1,000 crossing-guard booth near the school.

Overall, ODOT awarded $202,465 to Sylvania for those projects and similar work near Sylvan and Maplewood elementary schools and McCord Junior High.

"Any time that we get additional monies to help us improve safety is always a good thing," said Nancy Crandell, the Sylvania school district's spokesman.

While the grant was announced early this month, Jeff Ballmer, Sylvania's director of public service, said the work actually won't be done until next year. The next step, he said, will be for city officials to "walk through" the project with ODOT representatives before developing formal construction documents.

According to a consultants' report prepared last year for the city, 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.

The Safe Routes to School program is designed to encourage children in grades kindergarten through 8 to get to school by leg power, reducing vehicle traffic and providing healthy exercise.

The $40,958 plan for McCord includes electronic speed signs, overhead beacons, and countdown timers. Improvements near Sylvan totaling $32,594 include overhead beacons on Charlesgate Drive and new pavement markings on school driveways, while the $28,760 plan at Maplewood features 16 walk-signal timers and other crosswalk upgrades.

But the program does not provide wages for continuing the services of crossing guards at Highland and at a McCord Road crosswalk used by both McCord and Sylvan students. The school district agreed to pay the guards' $12,000 cost for the current school year, but their future afterward is uncertain.

The budget includes a 25 percent allowance for inflation and contingencies and about $7,800 for construction oversight. And $21,414 that the city expects to spend on design engineering will serve as a local match, Mr. Ballmer said.

"This takes care of all the stuff that is fairly easy to do," the service director said, noting that a future application for more Safe Routes to School money would cover building sidewalks along parts of school routes that lack them.

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