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School sidewalks coming this summer

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Students who walk to and from Riley Elementary School are going to be a bit safer next school year.

New Castle’s bike and pedestrian plan calls for sidewalks on Riley Road and South Main Street that will border the elementary school.

The city has been working for two years to make these walking paths a reality. Construction could start as soon as summer break begins.

“It’s exciting,” said Riley Principal Nick Middleton. “We definitely need it.”

There are currently no sidewalks leading to the elementary school.

Students who walk or bike to school in the morning or home in the afternoon have to walk on the edge of the road or in people’s yards.

“The biggest factor is to keep the students safe,” Middleton said.

Each year, the composition of the nearby neighborhoods changes. That means there could be a lot of kids biking to school one year and a lot of walkers the next year.

Middleton didn’t know exactly how many Bulldogs walk to school each day, but he could think of about a dozen off the top of his head who would benefit from the new sidewalks.

The new sidewalks along the south side of Riley Road and the west side of S. Main Street would also make it easier for adult neighbors to get to the school.

Middleton said people often walk the track or play basketball on the playground when school is out. The sidewalks could be an added bonus to their daily workout.

The overall sidewalk project is expected to cost just under $550,000.

The largest share of that is coming from an Indiana Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant through the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT).

City of New Castle GIS Coordinator Ed Hill wrote the original grant request. Hill said the city just paid its share of the project, about $203,000.

Hill said the project has been bid out to INDOT contractors and should be complete this summer.

The focus is to not disrupt any educational programming at Riley Elementary, Hill said.

When all is said and done, the new sidewalks will extend from Kovacs Drive on Riley down to Southview Drive on S. Main Street.

Hill had originally wanted the sidewalks to go to Woodbrooke Drive so kids in that neighborhood and White Estates could have easy access. That would have added another $70,000 to the project.

The entire sidewalk project has ended up costing more than the city had originally planned due to requirements tied to the grant money. Hill said the INDOT grant is funded through the Federal Highway Administration.

Before construction could start in earnest, New Castle had to do environmental and archeological studies of the proposed sidewalk paths.

Hill said the city also had to survey and appraise the land around Riley Elementary School to create new public right-of-ways, even though New Castle Community School Corporation donated the land for the project.

Now that the prep work is done and the final payment has been mailed off, Hill is excited to see INDOT get to work on the new sidewalks.

“I think it’s going to be a great project,” he said.

The New Castle bike and pedestrian master plan also has those sidewalks eventually connecting to a future trail that would run parallel to Cherrywood Avenue.