Demopolis regroups to pursue school safety grant

Published 10:39 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Demopolis City Council, when asked about the paving of sidewalks on 1st Avenue, public works director Mike Baker mentioned that the city was pursuing a federal grant that would help with that.

The grant comes through the Federal Highway Administration, and its program called “Safe Routes to School.” The goal of the $150,000 grant is to encourage safe passages to schools that would enable students to walk or ride their bikes to school. That would not only make for safe passages to school but also encourage more exercise in the walking and bike-riding, which would help reduce the alarming obesity rate among our youth.

The local schools targeted for enriching through the grant are U.S. Jones Elementary School and Demopolis Middle School. The grant would help improve walkways along the streets between Jackson Street and Pettus Street, and would also provide safe dropoff sites where students can be dropped off by parents and still be able to walk some distance to school.

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The city attempted to get the grant last year, but was not able to complete its pre-application research before the November 2008 deadline. However, the city will still pursue the grant this year.

“Each school would be a separate grant,” said Lucille Carpenter of the Demopolis Animal Shelter. “It had to be where they needed sidewalks and safety routing within so many feet of the school. Therefore, they were going to work on U.S. Jones and the middle school.

“It takes an unbelievable amount of research. I contacted the engineer in Birmingham who does this kind of work, and he started working on it, but we just could not meet the deadline. There were so many people involved in compiling the information.”

Carpenter said the city would continue to work on it and will try to have its material ready for this year’s grant application. The research included surveys sent home with children asking the parents if their children would walk if the safety areas were provided.

“They even talked about building a sidewalk across the existing old football field,” she said, “so there could be a dropoff point, like at the old school (at Main Avenue and Pettus Street), and then, those children could walk” across the field to the tunnel and up to the school.

“It’s certainly a great opportunity for us to utilize a grant to improve walking avenues to our schools,” said Dr. L. Wayne Vickers, the superintendent of Demopolis City Schools. “It certainly would improve traffic, and it would improve areas where students can be dropped off and have a safe route to walk. It will do a lot of things that the city and the school system would like to do: have larger sidewalks and excellent signs that would direct the students.

“What we plan to do is to work on it as a team — with a partnership between the city and the school system — to make sure that we get them the information that they need. We want to make sure that our students have everything that they need as far as walking to school. This would certainly be a positive thing for the school system.”