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Power poles hold up sidewalk project

Oak Harbor School District will have to build temporary walkways around Olympic View Elementary before the start of the school year. Permanent sidewalks, with the requisite curbs and gutters, will likely be built to replace the walkways next summer.

But two questions remain: Who will be in charge of installing the permanent sidewalks and how much it will cost?

Gary Goltz, the district construction manager, had some strong words about sidewalks at the Tuesday night council meeting. “I think we need to say ‘no’ to wasteful, unneeded and potentially dangerous projects,” he said.

After a lengthy discussion, council members voted to table one issue in the sidewalk debate in order to give staff time to do research. At issue is a proposal for the city to take over the school sidewalk project, which would save the school district about $200,000 in the cost of moving power poles. Under law, Puget Sound Energy can’t charge the city for re-locating the poles since they are in city-owned right-of-ways.

The school district would have to re-pay the city for the sidewalk installation, which would still be a savings for the district.

A controversy over school sidewalks began last month when council members adopted a new sidewalk policy and also withdrew two sidewalks 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 or even later.

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 and to ease the busy summer of 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 the school year.

“This is for the safety of the children,” Councilman Paul Brewer said Tuesday.

But school officials have said that the city’s full demand in regard to Olympic View is a waste of money and the deadline is impossible to meet. The biggest hurdle in sidewalk construction is the power poles along Regatta Drive. Puget Sound Energy would have to move the poles before the sidewalks could be installed and the company claims it can’t be done until next summer.

Gary Goltz pleaded with the city council members during the Tuesday night against forcing the district to put in “full frontal” sidewalks along Regatta Drive, in front of the school, sooner than previously agreed to.

Goltz pointed out that the school district is facing $1 million of budget cuts and possible teacher lay-offs. He said the council members’ demand could cost the city another $400,000 in unanticipated costs.

“We in the district are working for the same people as you — the citizens,” he said. “We’re asking you to be good stewards of the citizens’ money.”

Moreover, Goltz said the city’s demand would end up with a “sidewalk to nowhere” on Regatta and power lines over the play fields. “We don’t like that. We think that’s a bad idea,” he said.

City Development Services Director Steve Powers, however, recommended that the council members stand by their decision on sidewalks. “Sidewalks are public improvements that serve the entire community and not just the adjacent use,” he said.

Powers suggested that temporary, narrow sidewalks would be installed around Olympic View before the school year and then permanent sidewalks could be built next summer, in time for the next school year, after the power poles are moved.

But Councilman Richard Davis pointed out that there may not be enough time next summer to move the power poles and complete the entire sidewalks project. “We’re not thinking this through,” he said.

Near the end of the discussion, Powers suggested that the city could take on the installation of the permanent sidewalks next year in order to save the school district money. He explained that Puget Sound Energy has a responsibility to move poles for the city without charging.

In the end, the city council passed a motion requiring the school district to put in temporary sidewalks around Olympic View Elementary School, but they tabled any decisions about installation of permanent sidewalks.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

Community Events, April 2014

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