Grant funding sought for sidewalks near schools

OKEECHOBEE — State grant funding may be available to add sidewalks near two Okeechobee County schools.

At the Thursday, March 10, meeting, County Public Works Director Lee Evett explained that the school system has identified three areas that could qualify for state grant funding to pay for sidewalks within two miles of a school.

The Safe Routes School grant program is funded by the state, and does not require matching funds. Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy supports the applications. Nicole Havee, Transportation Coordinator for the School District provided the three areas of most concern to the district for children walking to school.

These areas are densely populated by families with children who attend the public schools.

The two applications will cover the areas deemed of most concern in the county. The third area is in the city, and the City of Okeechobee could apply for a grant to add sidewalks there.

Okeechobee County recently initiated a much-needed sidewalk project along Northwest 36th Street in the Basswood area. The estimated $1.5 million county project will place a sidewalk on one side of Northwest 36th Street from U.S. 441 west to U.S. 98.

County administrator Robbie Chartier said the county already budgeted funds to put in a sidewalk on one side of Northwest 36th Street. She said this grant would cover a sidewalk on the other side.

“They should be able to walk safely on both sides of the street,” said Mr. Evett.

“How do we justify telling the kids on one side of the street they have to cross a busy street to get to the safe walking area?”

The second area identified for sidewalks is near Seminole Elementary School area.

CivilSurv Design Group, under Master Agreement with Okeechobee County, provided a proposed fee of $24,500 to prepare two Safe Route to School Grant Applications, which must be submitted by March 31.

The county and the school district will need the parents’ help to get the application completed in time to meet the March 31 deadline. Planners will rely on the teachers to help with the student surveys required for the grant applications.

If selected, the grant funds will be available in 2018.

Mr. Evett noted that there is a possibility the work could be done earlier if the state has funds available.

County resident Robert Keefe suggested the county put a sidewalk in the area of Everglades Elementary instead putting sidewalks on both sides of the road in Basswood.

“I live next to Everglades Elementary. I went to Everglades Elementary in 1988,” he said.

“When I went to Everglades, that was a cow pasture. Now it’s Conners Gables, a fully developed subdivision,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that since 1988, there haven’t been any sidewalks put in to provide for the safety of the children in that neighborhood.”

He asked if they could put sidewalks on 36th Terrace and Everglades Boulevard within the two mile radius of the school.

Instead of another sidewalk in Basswood, maybe put in crosswalks and signage to make crossing the street to get to the side with sidewalks safer, he suggested. Another option is speed bumps, he said.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said they could apply for this grant each year to continue to put sidewalks within two miles of schools throughout the county.

He added that now when the county approves a new development, they require the developer to put in sidewalks.

The board approved a proposal from CivilSurv Design Group in the amount of $24,500 to submit, in conjunction with the Okeechobee County School District, two applications to the Florida Department of Transportation for grants that will construct a sidewalk along Northwest 36th Street and construct sidewalks in the Northwest 30th Street (aka Mitchell Road) and Seminole Elementary School area.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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