By Pat Maurer
After four long years of planning and construction, Farwell’s new walkway between downtown, the schools and Surrey Road, over a mile north, is now open and in use by students and community members.
Construction wrapped up on the second part of the Safe Routes to School (SR2S) project at the beginning of November. Earlier, the Village had completed the portion of the sidewalk inside the Village limits.
The SR2S project planning began four years ago when community members met over the need for a safer alternative for students traveling from the school to the athletic complex, or to and from Surrey Road to the school. Students were at risk because the only route included walking in the actual street along North Road between Lake Thirteen and the Village of Farwell.
Ellen Agle of the Farwell Public Relations Committe, is credited with planting the seeds that led to today’s completed walkway, said Committee Chair and Farwell Superintendent Carl Seiter. “Through her concern and foresight, the SR2S project was born. Using Mrs. Agle’s concerns as a springboard for action, investigations into potential funding sources led to the [grant] application for the project.”
Seiter said the dedicated efforts of School Liaison Officer Erica Vredevelt, then Undersheriff Rick Miller and Former School Superintendent Dave Peterson were instrumental putting Mrs. Agle’s idea into action.
The SR2S grant is a competitive grant issued through the Michigan Department of Transportation. Farwell’s Safe Routes grant is one of the largest grants awarded by the State of Michigan, Seiter said. MDOT awards the grant for the construction and in conjunction with the Michigan Fitness Foundation, an additional amount is awarded for the non-infrastructure items of the project.
“The goal of this project was to provide a safe alternative to pedestrians walking the street and in addition, to promote and foster good health of our community through exercise,” Seiter reported.
Nearly two years ago, in December, 2010, Farwell Area Schools, the Village of Farwell and Surrey Township received notice that MDOT had approved a grant of $442,830 and the Michigan Fitness foundation had added $8,106 for a total of $442,936 to fund the Safe Routes project.
Because the grant award did not cover the design and construction engineering for the SR2S project, the Village of Farwell, Surrey Township and the School District formed an agreement early in 2011 to share those costs and each pledged a total of up to $33,000 to cover those costs for the design and engineering, plus incidental costs to the Road Commission, which was contracted through Wilcox Engineering and estimated around $100,000.
The Clare County Road Commission acted as the administrator for the project and as administrator, is the project owner.
Originally the walkway was planned at ten feet wide, a shared use asphalt path from Maple Grove North to Surrey Road on the west side of North Road. Because of North Road property owners’ concerns, the plan was modified and the grant re-written by Seiter to make the pathway into a six-foot wide sidewalk instead. “The sidewalk is a much more esthetic [addition] to the pleasant neighborhood and still provides the alternative to pedestrian traffic in the street,” Seiter said. “With this plan change, the property owners were much happier with the upgrade and we were still able to make our community’s children much more safe.”
Seiter said, “As I drive down North road today, I am very pleased with the outcome…making the travel route safer for our students.” He thanked property owners, the Village Council, Surrey Township board members and several others including Connie Houk of Wilcox, Peterson and the Board of Education, and Miller, Vredevelt and Agle. “Our students thank you,” he said.