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Contentious sidewalks situation nearly settled

An issue over when and where the Oak Harbor School District has to build sidewalks was partially resolved at a City Council meeting Tuesday, but one bone of contention remains.

The council is scheduled to decide at the June 3 meeting whether or not the district needs to build “a sidewalk to nowhere,” as one school official put it, north of Olympic View Elementary School.

A low-boil controversy over sidewalks began last month when council members adopted a new sidewalk policy and also withdrew two sidewalk deferrals previously granted to the school district. The deferrals allowed the school district to build sidewalks around recently-remodeled Olympic View and Broad View elementary schools next summer.

Normally under city code, sidewalks must be built before such a construction project is complete. The school district wanted to put the sidewalks off a year in order to maximize matching grants from the state — sidewalks don’t get matching money — and because it’s going to be an extremely busy summer moving into the schools.

Citing safety concerns, the council cancelled the deferrals and directed the school district to have the sidewalks finished by the beginning of next school year.

City staff members, however, noted that the deferral agreement states that the sidewalks must be completed within 45 days once the deferral is pulled. The staff members sent a letter to the district stating the sidewalks had to be in place by June 10.

Gary Goltz, school construction manager, wrote back to the city that the deadline was “a totally unachievable date.” He also addressed the city council about the issue at the recent meeting.

Councilman Paul Brewer, who first suggested rescinding the school sidewalks deferral, was upset that city staff had given the district the 45-day deadline, which he pointed out was contrary to the motion from of council.

“The direction of council was to finish before the end of the year,” he said. “I want that clarified.”

Although the council members made no formal vote on the subject, City Administrator Thom Myers said afterward that the 45-day deadline is off the table. He admitted that city staff caused unnecessary hard feeling between the district and city by sending out the letter in the first place.

For now, Goltz said the school district is moving ahead with plans to install sidewalks at Broad View. As for the sidewalks at Olympic View Elementary, Goltz said he has to wait for a decision from the city council members before proceeding.

Goltz is asking the council not to require the school district to build sidewalks beyond the sidewalk north of the school. That would mean building, he wrote, “500 lineal feet of sidewalk that goes nowhere.”

More importantly, he said district officials feel that building the sidewalk would actually create a safety hazard. He said the route is not used by any students who attend the school.

“It would encourage people to walk down,” he said, “and dash across Regatta because there’s no crosswalk there.”

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