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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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City, School Seek Grant For West Park Drive Safety Project

Issue Date: November 21, 2019

Plans for a possible partnership between Peshtigo School District and the City of Peshtigo to make long-awaited improvements to West Park Drive a reality this year or next were unveiled by Mayor Cathi Malke and Peshtigo School Superintendent Patrick Rau at a a special Common Council meeting following the City of Peshtigo's annual budget hearing on Thursday, Nov. 14. School personnel for years have expressed concern over dangers to children walking to school along a busy street with no sidewalks, or crossing that busy street to get to school on the other side, especially when it's snow covered and icy.

After discussion Council unanimously approved a motion authorizing application for a Wisconsin Department of Transportation grant to help pay for the West Park Street project, with agreement to pay up to $79,085 as the city's share if the application is successful. There were no dissenting votes. Aldermen voting in favor were Debbie Sievert, Archer Leupp, Mike Behnke, and Brigitte Schmidt and Jillian Schutte. Alderman John Berendt was absent and excused.

It is expected that the School District will also contribute $79,085 toward the total estimated $790,850 cost of the project. Rau said Peshtigo School Board had endorsed a letter of support at its meeting the previous evening but had not taken formal action on the funding. Malke said there are compelling safety reasons for the project.

That action came as the last item on the Council's agenda for the afternoon, which had begun with the budget hearing at 1 p.m., followed by the special meeting that started with Council's vote to adopt the 2020 budget and tax levy as proposed.

The budget action which was followed by Council approval of a recommendation made by the Water and Sewer Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12 to hire Ruekert-Mielke for $8,900 to do a pre-design study for a new sanitary sewer river crossing, and $18,700 for design services. There have been repeated overflow problems at the existing river crossing, which have drawn censure from the DNR.

A brief summary of other Water and Sewer Committee meeting topics was included with the agenda for the City Council meeting. Sievert said she had attended that meeting and felt that BPM, Inc. General Manager Jim Koronkiewicz had wanted an open discussion on a letter of request sent from the mill, but instead the committee had no discussion, just a written response that she understood had been prepared by the committee. Behnke asked for a copy of both the BPM letter and the response. Schutte suggested copies should be made for everybody.

Comments at the Council meeting indicated some understood that Committee Chair Tom Gryzwa had written the responses, which were not previously approved or discussed at any official meetings of the Water and Sewer Committee. They they were read at the Water and Sewer Committee meeting and no action was taken on them.

Moving on quickly to other issues, Malke said she had met with Rau and the city engineer on the possibilities of cooperation between the city and school district to get funds for West Park Drive improvements from the state's new Multimodal Grant program. The engineer is charging $1,000 to help prepare the grant request, which Malke noted requires a great deal of time and effort.

The grant, if approved, will pay up to 90 percent for accepted projects, but gives preference to applicants willing to accept responsibility for a larger local share. To be eligible, projects must cost at least $250,000. Malke said the last time she had seen a state grant program of that extent had been connected with downtown improvements that were part of the the Hwy. 41 bypass.

Malke said the project will be designed to correct some compelling safety problems. There is to be curb and sidewalk from the elementary school to Aubin Street, as well as a guard rail for safety. Also planned are wider shoulders and a bicycle and walking path with added lighting to provide a safe route for kids to get to and from school. Rau said because of the dangers of walking along West Park Drive, parents who live quite near the school have asked that their children be picked up by bus, but are not eligible.

He added that of Peshtigo School District's 625 elementary students, 374 - well over half - do not ride the busses, and only 270 do. The 374 students either walk or bicycle to school or are dropped off and picked up by parents. "Having the proposed improvements would be a great benefit," he declared.

Schmidt, who chairs the Parks and Recreation Committee, said she had talked with Parks and Rec Director Shawn Northrop and he believes they can work with Cowell to make the project work for the benefit of both the park and the street.

There is also to be work from Aubin to Emery and in the Badger Park restroom area, with wider drop off lanes.

Rau said they plan to have curb and sidewalk in the drop off lane on the same side as the school, which will also help with snow removal. Drainage is a big issue, and currently big puddles form and turn to ice. He commented that sidewalk all the way to Aubin Street improves the entire neighborhood. He added that the school district wants to help because neither they nor the city have $800,000 to finance the work individually.

Behnke asked about drainage involving Badger Park. Rau said part of the drainage would go into the current ditch and into the park, but it will be designed to drain under the sidewalk.

Malke said they could apply for the 90 percent funding, but she has been told they will have a better chance if they ask for a slightly smaller percentage.She suggested they ask the state for 80 percent, with the city and school district to each provide 10 percent. Applications must be submitted by Friday, Dec. 6, so swift action is essential.

Malke said they have also applied for a 50/50 grant program, but with that they would not be adding the nice things like curb and sidewalk and the bicycle/walking path and added lighting for safety.

Northrop asked if the project would cut down on some of the traffic into Badger park, and Rau said some of that would be diverted if they put in a better drop-off lane near the school.

"I don't know that I'd drop my child off to walk on snow and ice across that busy street to school," Behnke declared.

Rau said adding lighting along the sidewalk and path will make the whole neighborhood safer. Leupp commented path lights will be a lot cheaper than street lights, but wondered if lights will bother the West Park Drive residents. Rau agreed they should have that discussion when they get to actual work, and again expressed confidence that the School Board will fully support the project.


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