Baldwin board agrees to support shared-use trail to BESIC
The Baldwin school board agreed Monday to put some added money into a sidewalk to the school along U.S. Highway 56 in the hopes of leveraging additional dollars from Douglas County for the project.
Baldwin City Councilwoman Christi Darnell brought the issue to the board, with a request it add to the $20,000 it has budgeted for the project that would construct 2,000 feet of new sidewalk next spring from Eleventh Street to the Baldwin Elementary School Primary Center.
Darnell has been the strongest advocate on the council for installing an 8-foot or 10-foot-wide shared-use trail on the route rather than a 5-foot-wide sidewalk. She has received the council’s blessing to explore that option provided the wider sidewalk’s cost to the city doesn’t exceed the $125,000 set aside for the project in the city’s 2015 budget.
As part of that effort, the council’s community enhancement committee, of which Darnell is a member, has requested the Douglas County Commission provide the $30,000 more it would cost the city to install the wider shared-use trail.
On Monday, Darnell told the board that county commissioners were looking for a commitment in dollars from the board and other community groups to support the shared-use trail. For the district, that would be money beyond the $20,000 earmarked in its 2014-2015 budget for its share of the project.
Superintendent Paul Dorathy said the district’s additional cost for an 8-foot-wide trail would require nearly twice that amount.
However, Darnell and board president Nick Harris said Monday that Bill Harmon of the Baldwin City Economic Development Council has said commitments were in place to provide most of that money if the district would agree to commit $5,000 more.
Darnell clarified that county commissioners weren’t looking for an exact dollar figure from the board but only that it was willing to share in the commitment for the shared-use trail project. She added that in addition to a commitment from the EDC, she would also be looking for financial support from the PTOs of the two elementary schools.
Helping Darnell make the case to the board for the wider sidewalk project was Jessica Mortinger, transportation planner for the Lawrence/Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO developed with citizen involvement in 2005 a plan for a countywide network of shared-use trails, she said. Connectivity to schools was a key part of that plan.
The comfort of bicyclists in using the wider shared-use trails differentiated them from sidewalks and made them safer for that use because bikers were less tempted to use streets or highways, Mortinger said. In addition, they would have greater use because their design encouraged two abreast pedestrian traffic and made two-way traffic more comfortable.
With that, the board agreed to increase its commitment to $22,000. Board members Ivan Huntoon and Greg Kruger voted against the increase because they found a 5-foot sidewalk provided adequate safety for students. They also noted the many cost-saving measures the board has been forced to make with state funding issues.
Should the county not partner in the project, the district's would reduce its commitment to $20,000.