City seeks financial path to sidewalk construction project
by Laura Gaddy
Jun 07, 2013 | 3316 views |  0 comments | 94 94 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville High School entrance that shows no sidewalks along George Douthit Drive.  Photo by Bill Wilson.
Jacksonville High School entrance that shows no sidewalks along George Douthit Drive. Photo by Bill Wilson.
The city of Jacksonville is trying to decide if it makes financial sense to build a sidewalk to Jacksonville High School.

If the city moves forward with the project, a sidewalk will be built in front of the school along George Douthit Drive. Officials have said they support the development, but the city hasn't decided how to pay for it.

“The school would really like to have that,” said Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith.

City officials estimate that the project would cost between $50,000 and $60,000. City officials are trying to decide whether they should pay for it with grant funding or city funding.

Using a grant could increase the cost or slow the work down, Smith said. That’s because federal requirements can add additional steps to the process.

Smith said the city is trying to decide what direction to take and added that it has not identified a specific grant that would help pay for the project.

Smith and school officials have said a sidewalk would make the campus safer for students who want to walk to class from neighborhoods across the street. Currently students cross the street at different points and walk along the the edge of the grass and on rocky places alongside George Douthit Drive.

Police Chief Tommy Thompson said officers have not identified a safety problem at the school because, despite the neighborhood’s proximity to the schools, few students walk to class. Instead, he said, many are taken to school in cars or by school bus.

“Kids don’t ride bicycles and walk like they used to,” Thompson said.

When Jacksonville High was located next to Jacksonville State University more students walked to class, said Mike Newell, who has served as principal of the high school for the past 10 years. That changed when the school moved because there were fewer homes within walking distance at that time, he said.

Since the school was built roughly 15 years ago, several neighborhoods have developed within walking distance of the school, but many students continue to use cars to get to class.

“We are seeing more students walking or riding (bikes) to school,” Newell said. “It’s gradually increased.”

Newell is leaving Jacksonville High this summer to a job at Jacksonville City Schools’ central office, but because of his experience at the high school Newell is familiar with students’ travel habits. He said he thinks more students would walk to school if there was a sidewalk leading to campus.

In addition to serving students, the sidewalk would also serve the cycling community by connecting to two nearby trails, the Chief Ladiga Trail and the Jacksonville Mountain Biking Trail, Smith said.

Staff Writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @Lbjohnson_star.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.

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