Suquamish Safe Walks to School project meets red tape

The Boon family, (left to right,) Vilma Boon, fourth-grader Maeve Boone and fifth-grader JeanLuc Boon, crosses Division Street near Suquamish Elementary Wednesday. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
The Boon family, (left to right,) Vilma Boon, fourth-grader Maeve Boone and fifth-grader JeanLuc Boon, crosses Division Street near Suquamish Elementary Wednesday.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

SUQUAMISH — Children at Suquamish Elementary will be at least 30 percent safer on their daily treks to school.

Rural school districts like the North Kitsap School District (NKSD) don’t provide transportation for students who live within a mile’s distance from the school house.

Those children must walk.

Of NKSD’s seven elementary schools, Suquamish Elementary has the largest population of students who walk to school.

“We have the least amount of buses of any elementary school, hence the issue for us of safety to and from school,” Suquamish Principal Joe Davalos said.

Escalating the safety issue are the blocks making up the mile radius Suquamish students traverse. The kids hit the narrow streets to and from school either walking, biking in the street or making little trails along residential property if it’s not already occupied by hedges or drainage ditches.

The route to school gets even more complicated at the corner of Park Boulevard and Geneva Street, as the shoulder on the east side of Park is often used as extra road space for cars and buses.

That same shoulder is also used as sidewalk space for kids heading to school.

“I think it’d be really nice if they did have sidewalks because the cars would be more conscientious of where they turn,” said fifth-grader JeanLuc Boon, standing at the corner in question on his way to school Wednesday, adding it’s usually the “high-off-the-ground” cars that can’t see the lines very well. And there have been close calls with the buses too. “Sometimes with the buses it’s really scary and loud.”

Although the trek may include some close calls, Davalos said no students have been hit on the way to school.

In 2006, Suquamish staff, headed by librarian Gail Petranek, applied for a $500,000 grant from the state’s Safe Routes to School Program. Petranek said staff have been working on Safe Routes to School for seven years.

The program is federally and state funded and commits to providing money for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements and to provide children safe alternatives to riding the bus.

In December 2006 the school received the $500,000 grant for their proposal which included raised sidewalks running the entire lengths of Geneva, Division and Park streets.

It also proposed turning Park, the street running in front of the school, into a one-way, which would alleviate the need for cars and buses to enter the shoulder area of Park.

A round of public meetings were held and stemming from the last meeting on Feb. 26, Park will not become a one way street.

This was a disappointing blow for the staff.

“I want everyone to know the Suquamish Citizens Advisory Council supported the one way street on Park,” Petranek wrote in a prepared statement. “This would have solved the largest number of problems for the least amount of cost.”

Another disappointment for the school was learning a raised sidewalk will only run about a third of the length of Park to Pathways Park instead of the entire stretch of street as outlined in the approved grant proposal.

A miscommunication between the county and school occurred and the school’s sidewalk plan has been incorporated into a larger Kitsap County Department of Public Works street improvement plan for Suquamish.

“When we applied for this we didn’t know we’d be connected to a storm water improvement plan,” Davalos said. “Our piece is just plunked in the middle. We just wanted to help pay for sidewalks and now we’re not getting that.”

Tina Nelson is the senior program manager for Kitsap County Public Works. She said there are three different projects going on in Suquamish and they’re trying to coordinate them all to get the “best bang for the buck.”

Storm water utility was improved on Augusta, but there’s an additional need to pick up storm water in the area and several streets need to be repaved.

“Basically they committed to building 14 blocks of sidewalk and in order to construct the sidewalk there are other items that get affected,” Nelson said. “I can’t speak to where they got the idea the sidewalk would go all the way to Prospect. Somewhere along the line this got miscommunicated and I don’t know where it happened.”

With the additional improvements that need to be made $500,000 of sidewalks has become a $3 million project.

Davalos and Petranek are frustrated, they said. Had they know it would cost millions, they would’ve applied for a larger grant.

But Nelson said the additional $2.5 million will come from the storm utility and county road fund.

Nelson also said to rectify the miscommunication the Public Works Department is including a proposal for a sidewalk to run the entire length of Park in the Transportation Improvement Plan for construction in 2011, which has to be approved by the county commissioners.

“We tried to come up with a compromise and see if we can rectify that somehow and try to get that done in 2011,” she said.

North Kitsap County Commissioner Steve Bauer said he’s asked Nelson to look into a temporary fix for the Park sidewalk by expanding the shoulder with asphalt paving.

“We are looking at some kind of a fix. I think it provides a lot of the benefits,” Bauer said. “If there’s a way we can do it without spending a huge amount of money we’ll try and do it.”

Sidewalk construction on Geneva from August to Division and from Geneva and Park to the entrance of the school will take place this summer.

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