By Jim Newell
Orion Township officials are working on a plan to bring $1.7 million in sidewalk and pathway improvements to Lake Orion Community Schools (LOCS), and will submit a proposal for the Safe Routes to School grant by the end of the month.
The township Board of Trustees held a public hearing on Monday on the Safe Routes to School plan, a step required in the grant application process.
If the township – working in conjunction with the schools – gets the grant, eight schools could see additional sidewalks and pathways, lighting and safer street crossings.
Improvements would also be made along streets in the township off school property, connecting existing sidewalks or creating new sidewalks and linking some neighborhoods to the schools.
The schools eligible for the grant – which is designed for improvements at K-8 school buildings – are Blanche Sims, Carpenter, Paint Creek, Orion Oaks, Webber and Stadium Drive elementary schools, and Scripps and Waldon middle schools.
Oakview Middle School in Oakland Twp. and Pine Tree Elementary are not part of the proposal. Pine Tree had initially been considered when the evaluation process began, but the school board has since voted to close Pine Tree at the end of the current school year.
“This is a really extremely difficult grant to get because it takes a lot of time and paperwork to apply for it,” said Orion Twp. Supervisor Chris Barnett, adding that very few communities complete the process because it is so labor-intensive. “Essentially, we know we’re going to be approved.”
Because the program improves the routes on and adjacent to school premises Lake Orion schools had to sign on to the program. The school board voted 6-1 to approve the memorandum of understanding at its March 8 meeting. Boardmember Dana Mermell cast the lone dissenting vote.
“We had a great reception from the school district. They approved the memorandum of understanding” and that they would have to contribute to the projects costs, Barnett said.
Under the federal program, which is administered through the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, the township and schools would see $1.4 million in grant money. The local entities are required to contribute 10 percent of the costs on their property.
Orion Township would pay about $272,000 and Lake Orion schools would contribute $72,000. The school district would only pay for projects that are completely on school property; the township would pay for projects that are in the township or partially in the township and adjacent to the schools.
Because Blanche Sims is in the village and some pathways would be constructed along village roads, the village would also be asked contribute.
Barnett said they are in discussions with the village, which has asked the township to use funds from the current safety path millage that the township collects.
“It has not been resolved. I would put that in the to-be-determined column,” Barnett said.
Jessica Katers, project manager with OHM Advisors has been working with the township on the proposal and drafted the proposal and the site improvement plans.
In January 2016, the township started a joint venture with the school district, and decided it would be a great idea to work together to go after grant money, Katers said. Officials prioritized what each school campus wanted to work on and put together cost estimates.
OHM, LOCS and Orion Twp. and a parent representative did a walk-through at each campus to focus on which priorities were the best for consideration for improvements.
Katers said the grant review process could take 60-90 days before approval. Construction on the pathways would begin in the spring of 2018 after school gets out, and finish by the fall of 2019, she said.
In addition to new paths, the elementary schools also could see a “Walking School Bus” concept introduced.
Under the plan, parents would drop students off at a location close to the school and then a designated school staff member would walk the kids to school. The proposal would get the students additional exercise and alleviate traffic congestion at the school buildings, Katers said.
As an example, parents could drop students off at the Orion Center on Joslyn Road and then the students would walk to Orion Oaks Elementary.
“This will be the most significant grant the township has gotten in at least 10 years,” Barnett said. “Anytime you can get 10 cents on the dollar for a significant amount of work that will benefit our schools and pedestrians in general, we should do it.”
By Jim Newell