Grants will make walk to school safer
By JUSTIN BURNETT
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
December 23, 2011 · Updated 1:26 PM
Beginning next year, streets leading to a handful of Oak Harbor schools should become a whole lot safer.
In a cooperative effort, the school district and the city applied and qualified for a Safe Routes to School grant and the money received will allow significant improvements at eight sidewalks.
They include those at W. Lowerland Drive and SW Roeder Drive, SW Heller Street and SW Eighth Avenue, W. Whidbey Avenue and Jib Street and Fairhaven Drive, E. Whidbey Avenue and NW Izett Street, SE Midway between E. Whidbey Avenue and SE Fourth Avenue, SE Regatta Drive and E. Whidbey Avenue, and NE Regatta Drive and NE Fifth Avenue.
Each will be outfitted with a pedestrian-activated and solar powered in-roadway warning light and warning sign system. The lights are actually imbedded in the asphalt and are pretty hard to miss, according to Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District.
“As a driver, I find it really effective,” Schulte said. “It really catches your attention.”
The grant, which was awarded about two years ago and totaled $339,925, will also fund safe-street educational efforts and provide the Oak Harbor Police Department with a laser speed measuring device.
While the educational and enforcement arms of the grant will be handled by the school district and local police, the design and construction of the sidewalk work is being handled by Oak Harbor Public Works.
City Engineer Eric Johnston is estimating the cost of the project at about $300,000, though the agreement between the school district and the city allows for a total of $315,000 in reimbursement.
Should the project run over the estimate, Johnston said money from the city’s Transportation Improvement Fund could be used to cover the difference. The city council has yet to approve any expenditures but it did give the green light to seek bids from construction firms earlier this month.
This will be the second time they have done so. The city sought bids for the same project this past June but only one firm, Oak Harbor-based C. Johnston Construction, made an offer. It was $227,000 more than the project’s original cost estimate of $412,000 and was therefore rejected by the city council.
Johnston said the discrepancy was due to the high cost of solar lighting materials. Since then, the scope of the improvements has been reduced to bring down the total cost. Upgrades to sidewalks and curbing were minimized and light fixtures were reduced in number to the minimum standard.
Because of the location of some of the sidewalks, the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation recommended that a survey be completed before construction begins.
At the city council meeting earlier this month, Johnston said the survey had been completed and that nothing significant was found. An inadvertent discovery plan was also created in the event of any surprises, such as Native American artifacts, during construction, he said.
“I will not state we are not going to find anything until we’re done with the project,” Johnston said.
Assuming more favorable bids come in, Johnston is hoping a contract will be approved in February and that construction will begin the following month. Schulte said he is also looking forward to the finished project. Along with district officials, many parents have advocated for safer roads to schools.
“There is going to be some pretty happy people once it’s completed,” Schulte said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Justin Burnett at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5054.