Town and school officials discuss safe routes program

The sidewalk on Powder Mill Road can be used by walkers and bikers. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

SOUTHWICK – The Select Board discussed the federally-funded Safe Routes to Schools program (SRTS) that was established in 2005 by Mass Department of Transportation(DOT). The program works with schools to increase transportation for children that are in elementary or middle school.

The Select Board was recently made aware of the program by DPW Director Randy Brown.

A school district would need to initiate the program into the school system in order for a community to be a part of the SRTS program. Being included in the program would allow school districts to fix infrastructure issues that are two miles or less from an elementary or middle school in the district.

“It’s an opportunity. It’s something we should look at,” said Select Board Clerk Doug Moglin. “We don’t have the best sidewalks around Powder Mill Road.”

Moglin mentioned Depot Street, which is less than two miles from Powder Mill or Woodland School, as an infrastructure issue that could fit with the program. Since it’s so close to both schools, Depot Street is used by children who walk or bike to school.

Sidewalks on Depot Street are a piece of infrastructure that Moglin would like to see improved if this program comes to fruition.

“I’d love to see kids safely walking to school or riding their bikes,” said Moglin.

Brown, who said he met with the school district last year about the SRTS program, is hoping to meet with school officials again.

“We have some infrastructure repairs that could be beneficial from that program,” said Brown.

Brown also agreed with Moglin’s thoughts on Depot Street.

“There are sidewalks there where some areas are deteriorated,” said Brown.

At a recent meeting with the school district, Fox brought it to discussion with Superintendent Jen Willard. Fox noted that implementing the SRTS program affects the town’s budget, as it could help the town secure funding to help the district’s school resource officer as well as further enhance Advance Life Support tools that first responders would have access to at the schools.

According to Willard, the school district currently has a total of 39 walkers across all three schools in the district. Pointing out that it would be a year-long process with the SRTS program where the district would have to do all of these initiatives to get students to walk to school, the district still may not be able to get the funding they want from the program once those initiatives have been complete.

“We don’t have enough students in our local area for the state to come in,” said Willard.

Even though the school district’s numbers indicate there are 39 walkers, Willard thinks that actual number is even lower.

“You might see 10 kids walking,” said Willard. “It’s not to say we wouldn’t be willing to work with SRST.”

Steve Presnal, the Business Manager for the school district mentioned that he looked at how many students are within a half-mile radius for both Powder Mill and Woodland. There are 13 students living within a half-mile of Powder Mill and five students for Woodland. Presnal was unsure if those numbers would fit with the SRST program.

“Are those numbers going to disqualify us right off the bat?” said Presnal.

Fox then suggested to Willard that they give one more look into the program in order to give a final conclusion of whether the program is worth pursuing or not. Fox added that he’ll ask Brown to reach out to Mass DOT and set up a meeting with all parties involved.

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