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At a special meeting last night, the Hopewell Township Committee approved a resolution to apply for a state-aid grant to construct a sidewalk near Bear Tavern Elementary School. Despite the looming June 27th 2016 Safe Routes to School NJ grant deadline, the Committee declined to vote at the June 14 Committee meeting indicating a need for further information from the Hopewell Valley Regional School District (HVRSD) and merits of installing a sidewalk including affect on speed limit and busing, and necessitating the special meeting to make a formal decision in time.A sidewalk from the intersection of Continental Lane to Bear Tavern Elementary School Bear Tavern would serve to “encourage pedestrian traffic, create a sense of community around Bear Tavern Elementary School, and provide Bear Tavern Elementary School walkers who live in the surrounding areas safe passage to and from school,” explained the HVRSD Board of Education resolution, which passed unanimously in May.

Estimated to cost just shy of $360,000, the sidewalk would be funded through the Federal Highway Administration’s Federal Aid Program and is being administered by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), in partnership with the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO). The installation of a walkway would necessitate two additional crossing guards which would cost an estimate of $14,000 per year and would not be covered by the grant.

sidewalk map
Preliminary proposed map of sidewalks and crosswalks to Bear Tavern Elementary School for the grant application (subject to change)

At the special meeting last night, Bear Tavern Elementary School principal, Chris Turnbull, urged the Committee to approve the resolution to apply for the sidewalk grant.

“Bear Tavern supports this grant that would provide sidewalks around the school. We are the largest sending school in the district and we want these funds to increase our sense of community. The ability to walk and/or ride their bikes to school  makes it not only a neighborhood school but allows families to have a feeling of belonging and community,” said Turnbull. “As for student achievement, when students are active, they are not only more healthy but achieve better in school…. We believe that in order to submit this grant we lose nothing and have an opportunity to improve our community and school and no cost in the long term to the Township.”

Community members came to the special meeting to support the application. “Principal Turnbull hit it on the head that the issue is to provide a nicer sense of community at the school that would help us further grow into a stronger community. Also, this would be an easy natural way to let kids get energy out in the morning before they sit down for eight hours at a desk,” said one Bear Tavern area parent. “Lastly, a lot of us feel we are not able to take as much advantage of Washington Crossing Park as we would like to because the walk is so difficult. More families would take advantage of the park systems. More families would even socialize in the park.”

Preliminary proposed map of sidewalks and crosswalks to Bear Tavern Elementary School for the grant application (subject to change)
Preliminary proposed map of sidewalks and crosswalks to Bear Tavern Elementary School for the grant application (subject to change)

“By making the changes to the roadway, it will allow us to pursue lower speed limits,” said area resident Kim Robinson. “Everything has to work together and, if we go down this path, in the end we could have a safe area surrounding our school.”

Each Committee member shared his or her experience with local elementary schools and the importance of community, health and walkability.

“I would like to thank the school district for bringing this forward,” said Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinski. “I think what we are doing here is the right thing to do from safety and activity standpoint, but also the fiscal one.”

The Committee approved the resolution unanimously.

Should the grant be approved, additional details will be available and more opportunities for public input will arise. Stay tuned to MercerMe for that and more!

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