Council backs plan for better pedestrian access around Skinner Road School
By John Kennedy
VERNON — The Town Council on Tuesday gave its support to a nearly $500,000 grant for a number of projects related to pedestrian traffic around Skinner Road School.
The $491,470 in federal funds is part of the national Safe Routes to School program and will come through the state Transportation Department, according to Town Engineer Terry D. McCarthy.
The money will cover construction and inspection costs for the projects, which will soon enter the design phase, McCarthy said, though the design process will not be covered by the grant.
Town Administrator John D. Ward said design costs would be covered by a combination of town and Board of Education funds, but the exact amount has not yet been discussed.
McCarthy said the design process usually costs about 10 percent of the total project, though it could be more or less.
McCarthy said the official resolution will be delivered to the state today, and it will reply with a letter confirming the funding.
Then, the town will begin searching for a consulting firm. He estimated about a year for design, and then another year for construction, neither of which should cause major traffic problems on either Skinner or Dart Hill roads.
According to a July 9 letter to Skinner Road property owners, the town has proposed a raised crosswalk in the school’s front driveway, a stone dust trail around the back of the school property, work on the Dart Hill Road pedestrian bridge, construction of a new sidewalk on the west side of Skinner Road and the installation of radar signs, among other things.
Skinner Road School has a tradition of children walking to school, School Superintendent Mary P. Conway said. The school also has participated in a bimonthly walk to school program since October 2010. Nearby students walk to school and buses stop a little more than a half a mile away, where adults then escort children to the building.
Conway said the school encourages walking and biking to school because it’s a way to encourage good health, and as Skinner Road School nurse Judi Manfre said, “healthy kids learn better.”
“The more we have our kids outside in the fresh air exercising, the better they’re going to do in school,” said Shireen Rhodes, who has walked her children across the street to school for at least four years.
Rhodes also noted that while she may feel safe walking her kids to school, many other parents fear for the safety of their children, and fewer are traveling on foot.
“Anything that can be done to slow down traffic and make the school zone more visible will reassure parents,” Rhodes said.
But the project is not without its opponents.
Republican Town Council member William F. Campbell, who abstained from voting on the otherwise unanimous resolution, said he didn’t understand why so much money was being spent if there haven’t been any instances of danger.
“It’s half a million dollars,” Campbell said. “I just don’t see that you’ve made a case for safety.”
“With all due respect, I don’t want to wait until there is an accident,” Rhodes replied.
Democratic council member Michael A. Winkler commended those involved with the project for getting something done now, because “almost always, it requires a tragedy before anyone moves.”
After the grant application was submitted on July 17, 2011, Skinner Road School Principal Matthew Wlodarczyk received a letter from the state on Feb. 24 notifying him that the grant had been short listed and the town must hold a public information meeting, as well as submit a supporting resolution from the council.
At the Aug. 1 informational meeting, resident William Gilson of 95 Skinner Road expressed concerns about the project, which were further detailed in a letter to McCarthy about two weeks later.
Gilson suggested that if a sidewalk is constructed, it should be a duplicate of the other Skinner Road sidewalk and be made of concrete, not asphalt, in order to maintain continuity and property values, and that the proposed stone dust walkway should be paved for easier maintenance during the winter.
Gilson also proposed a crosswalk at the top of the existing school walkway, because every vehicle exiting the school would turn immediately across the crosswalk, and that the proposed sidewalk be extended to the Ellington town line to ensure the safety of children living in the additional seven houses.
McCarthy said he has been in talks with Gilson about his proposed changes, and that they will be considered during the design process.
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