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Perham awarded Safe Routes to School grant

Perham has been awarded a Safe Routes to School grant to create a safer, healthier environment for children traveling to and from school.

The federal grant award, announced Monday by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, will fund improvements to the environment and infrastructure around Perham schools.

Perham-Dent Superintendent Mitch Anderson said the grant award is good news for the school district. Planned improvements will help relieve traffic congestion, especially in front of Heart of the Lakes Elementary School, and provide kids with safer access to and from the middle and elementary schools.

“This is a couple steps in the right direction,” he said of the planned improvements. “These projects will impact that (congestion) greatly.”

The improvements will include:

-The addition of a curb bump-out (extension of the curb out onto the roadway) on Second Avenue SW to help slow down traffic and make it safer for elementary and middle school students to cross the street. The bump-out will be located at a logical crossing point for students traveling to and from the Perham Area Community Center.

-Two new sidewalk segments that will feed into the curb bump-out.

-A one-way extension from the existing bus corral to Coney Street, funneling a majority of bus traffic away from the congested area in front of the middle and elementary schools.

-A new sidewalk on Ninth Street SW that will connect school grounds to the Wildflower Trail, as well as connect the southern end of the various north and south avenues that abut school property.

-A new sidewalk on Third Avenue SW that will connect the existing sidewalk with the new Ninth Street SW sidewalk.

-Construction of a pathway across school grounds, connecting Ninth Street SW to the existing sidewalk that feeds both Heart of the Lakes Elementary School and the middle school.

All these improvements lie on property owned by either the city or Perham public schools, so no rights of way need to be acquired.

The total cost of the improvements is estimated at $271,000, 80 percent of which ($216,800) will be covered by the grant. The school district and the city will share the remaining 20 percent of the cost, as was agreed upon in January, when the grant application was submitted.

“It’s a good deal,” said Anderson. “We’re going to get a lot of bang for our buck, and get a lot of projects for a fraction of the cost.”

Chuck Johnson, Perham’s economic development director, said the improvements will likely be made in 2015 to align with the city’s planned street improvement project.

“The city and Otter Tail County will be working together on a Third Avenue SE rebuild in 2015,” explained Johnson. “Thus these components (of the Safe Routes to School plan) can be wrapped into that project for better pricing.”

Perham’s Safe Routes to School Committee has met for the past several years to devise better and safer access to schools. Those meetings culminated in a nine-month-long information-gathering and planning process that involved city and school leaders, led by West Central Initiative.

Perham’s Safe Routes to School Plan was born out of those meetings, and the improvements listed in the grant application were based on recommendations made in that plan.

“The area in front of Heart of the Lakes Elementary was a high priority, as numerous students cross Second Street SW as they go to the PACC after school,” said Johnson. “The bump-outs that will be installed on Second Avenue will make this considerably safer, as will the bus loop extension to Coney Street so that a majority of school buses won’t have to use Second Avenue as they exit the bus corral.”

Perham was one of 50 communities in Minnesota to be awarded a Safe Routes to School grant this year, according to MnDOT.

Other area schools that were awarded funding include Frazee and Battle Lake.

Since 2005, MnDOT has awarded nearly $15.5 million in federal funds to communities to support Safe Routes to School. Communities are chosen based on their proposed projects and the quality of their grant applications.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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