Grant to help make kids’ walks to school safer

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, August 12, 2015

After the state awarded the City of Elizabethton with a Safe Routes to School grant this week, city leaders are hoping walking will become a safer alternative for some city students to get to school.

On Friday, state representatives made the announcement, but it wasn’t until Monday that City Manager Jerome Kitchens found out the state decided to fund 100 percent of the project, which totals $169,281.

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According to the state’s press release, there were 25 applications asking for more than $5 million in grant money. The state total award amount was $2.7 million. All applicants were awarded some level of funding, but city leaders were surprised to find out that the state chose to fund their entire project.

“There’s no local match,” Kitchen said. “It’s 100 percent from the state. We’re extremely happy, and we think it’s crucial for pedestrian safety not only for students but for all our residents. School zones need to be safe for students to cross. This will connect communities and make the neighborhood both safer and nicer to live in.”

This is one of the last years cities will be able to receive a grant funded 100 percent by the state, said Elizabethton Planning and Economic Development Director Jon Hartman.

“We were kind of under pressure to make sure the grant was really good,” Hartman said.

The grant is part of a nationwide initiative to make bicycling and walking to school a safer, more appealing and healthier alternative for K-12 students, according to a press release.

The city can use $152.981 of the grant for infrastructure to improve sidewalk safety and $16,300 will be used by the school system for anything that falls under non-infrastructure.

The grant will focus on students who attend West Side Elementary School and T.A. Dugger Jr. High School.

Improvements will be made to curb cutouts and sidewalks along G Street from Holly Lane to Hunter Avenue.

“We will be installing push to cross pedestrian lights,” Kitchens said. “We want children to be able to move safely across G Street. The grant also requires everything be ADA compliant from the point of start to the schools.”

Hartman worked with Elizabethton City Schools’ Coordinated School Health Director Regina Wilder to create the grant.

“We wrote it together,” said Wilder, who will be in charge of utilizing the non-infrastructure portion of the grant.

Wilder explained what kind of initiatives the money might fund.

“It is mainly anything in addition to sidewalks and signage,” Wilder said. “It’s for education on things like pedestrian and bike safety and incentives like T-shirts or pedometers.”

Wilder hopes these initiatives encourage more students to participate in alternative ways to get to school.

“The whole idea is to get more students walking and biking to school,” she said. “This will create home to school connection. They will be able to do this in as safe a manner as possible.”

Hartman was particularly excited about federal and state tax dollars coming back to the community in the form of improvements to street infrastructure.

“This is great,” Hartman said. “We’re always happy anytime we can get state or federal funding here in Elizabethton. It’s nice when you get a grant and tax dollars can come back to the community.”

State Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) and Rep.John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton) commented via press release about the awarded grant money.

“When school routes are within a reasonable range for students to travel on foot or by bike, it is important to encourage this as a healthy alternative,” said Crowe, who is Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. “These routes need to be safe, however, and that is what this grant will help provide. The improvements also help make walking or bicycling a better alternative for all citizens as we work towards improving health in our state.  I appreciate the efforts of our city officials and all who worked to make this grant happen.”