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City takes first step toward Safe Routes to School grant

Perham city leaders have submitted an application for a Safe Routes to School grant.

The application, mailed out just this week, requests funding for a safer pedestrian path between the schools and the Perham Area Community Center - a route often traveled by kids.

The grant would also fund a new, safer pathway from the middle and elementary school bus corral area to Coney Street, as well as new paths from the middle and elementary schools to 9th Street SW.

In an open house-style meeting about Safe Routes to School last Wednesday, City Manager Kelcey Klemm said kids are already traveling between the schools and the PACC on a frequent basis. The proposed pathway between these buildings would essentially be a widened, paved version of a trail that already casually exists, though a portion of that would be realigned to run along a fence line, making it a safer, more defined path.

At the heart of the new route would be a "bump out" (raised section of road) pedestrian crossing on 2nd Ave. SW near the elementary school. The road would be narrowed at this crossing, and new safety lights put up to alert drivers.

While the grant dollars available for Safe Routes to School are "highly competitive," Klemm said, if the city were to get funding, it would cover the entire cost of the project, with no local match required.

The city has been working with West Central Initiative and PartnerSHIP 4 Health on its Safe Routes to School plans.

The Safe Routes to School program is intended to: educate the public about the health benefits of walking and biking to and from school; encouraging walking and biking as healthy practices; enforcing these kinds of healthy practices; and engineering opportunities for these practices to easily occur.

Kayla Rossiter, of West Central Initiative, said during a presentation last Wednesday that far fewer children walk and bike to school today than they did a generation ago, and the consequences include obesity and respiratory problems in kids.

According to Rossiter, more children are being driven to school by their parents for a number of reasons. For example, many schools today are larger, consolidated schools built on the outskirts of town - too far away to be easily reached by walking or biking. Fears of crime, traffic dangers and bad weather are also common.

While not all of these reasons directly apply to Perham, community leaders at the meeting said more could be done to ensure that all kids have a safe way to walk or bike to school. Some of the more notable dangers to kids walking in town include the railroad track crossings and busy traffic along Main Street and other main thoroughfares.

Rossiter said the city is currently looking ahead to a future Safe Routes to School plan that would encompass the entire community, creating safe pedestrian pathways throughout town. If the city gets a grant this time around, it's likely more grants will be applied for in the future.