HARWICH — Massachusetts Department of Transportation has confirmed that the Harwich Elementary School application for a Safe Routes to School project has been approved and $685,000 has been set aside for the work.
The application was filed by Principal Mary Oldach in January. In March the Mass DOT's office of Transportation planning notified the school district the project was advancing to the funding process. On Wednesday, Emily Budzynkiewicz, Safe Routes to School coordinator at MassDOT, said the town will receive the grant.
“Harwich Elementary has been selected to receive an infrastructure project estimated at $685,000,” she said in an email. “MassDOT is not granting any money, rather funding the project directly.”
The funds will be used to rebuild sidewalks on South Street, Sisson Road and Main Street, making intersections safer and increasing accessibility. Many of the sidewalks around the school are not Americans with Disability Act compliant. The project will also pay for traffic calming, speed reductions, pedestrian and bicycle facilities and traffic diversion improvements.
“This grant provides much-needed sidewalk and intersection improvements that surround our school,
Oldach said. “We hope that the enhanced pedestrian experience will encourage more families to consider walking to school, and also provide expeditious exit routes during school safety drills.”
The town has been seeking several state grants to improve sidewalks in the historic Harwich Center village, including a state Department of Housing and Community Development block grant for a more encompassing sidewalk improvement project extending from the community center on Oak Street to the Harwich Cultural Center on Sisson Road.
The project will address a small portion of the larger sidewalk program the town is seeking. Town Administrator Christopher Clark was co-applicant on the school sidewalk project application.
“The state support of this project is tremendous,” Clark said. “It will allow the town to undergo a significant upgrade to the sidewalk network, enabling us to create appropriate ADA transitions at crosswalks and sidewalks, as well as widening the sidewalk network to five feet, which will allow for easier access and more effective snow clearing operations.”
Selectman Donald Howell has cautioned Clark on a couple of occasions when progress has been mentioned on the application that it should be done in conjunction with the other Harwich Center improvements under consideration. Howell pointed to other state road and sidewalk projects proposed in town that have not meshed with the character of the community.
The Safe Routes to School Program is sponsored by MassDOT with funds from the Federal Highway Administration. It emphasizes a collaborative, community-focused approach that fosters partnerships between advocacy groups, law enforcement, education leaders, and public health departments that all work together to promote safe routes for children to walk and ride bicycles to and from school, according to a Monomoy Regional School District press release states.
Safe Routes to School partners also receive year-round pedestrian and bicycle safety education instruction, as well as engagement initiatives tailored to meet each school's health, safety and environmental priorities.
As a SRTS partner, Harwich Elementary School will hold a Summer Safety Fair on June 1 featuring a bike rodeo, bike safety information, water safety tips, and more. The community is invited to attend the free event.