Amy Cunningham
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The city of Spring Hill wants parents to feel a little bit more at ease about letting their children walk or bike to school in 2012 and beyond, so the city is applying for a grant that will help do just that.
Spring Hill City Planner Jim Hendershot said that he believes the Safe Routes to Schools grant would benefit families and encourage Spring Hill kids to lead more active and healthy lifestyles. He pointed to national statistics that say thirty years ago 60 percent of kids who lived within two-miles of a school walked or rode their bikes.  Hendershot isn’t sure what the statistics are for Spring Hill children today, but he believes that they might follow a national trend that shows only about 15 percent of kids get to school by walking or riding.
“The national trend is that there aren’t nearly the amount of kids walking or biking to school as there used to be,” Hendershot explained.  “The goal is to provide safer routes to school so kids can do just that. The end result of that is less impact on the environment, and there’s so much information now on childhood obesity, this is an overall health and safety issue for the kids. This could help encourage healthier lifestyles for kids by providing them safer routes to get to school.”
Lideanna Laboy from BHC Rhodes, an engineering firm working in conjunction with the city, informed school board members of the Safe Routes to School grant program last month. She said obtaining the grant might require a small commitment from the school district in gathering information about walking to and from school from both students and parents.
Hendershot said that the grant is issued in two phases.  The first phase would provide the city with money to develop a plan for improving a two mile radius near Spring Hill schools.  Engineers and city planners would look at improving sidewalks, crosswalks, signage and overall safety in the area. The second phase of the grant would include the bulk of the funding to actually complete the improvements.
Currently the city and BHC Rhodes are completing preliminary work in order to complete the application process.
Hendershot explained that the grant would help to implement comprehensive safety measures to make Spring Hill children safer.
“It’s much more than infrastructure issues, on non-infrastructure issues, we’re talking about safety programs in the schools where information is provided to students both in and outside of school.  For example we might have a bicycle rodeo where we check the safety of bikes – civic groups would help w/ that. We may look at holding a designated walk or ride your bike to school day with the schools – a designated day of the week where it’s encouraged to walk or ride to school,” Hendershot said.
USD 230 Superintendent Bart Goering is supportive of the city’s efforts on behalf of the students in his district.
While the area around Prairie Creek Elementary will not benefit from the program because it lies inside of  Olathe city limits, he believes overall the grant will be good for students in the district.
“The Spring Hill School District looks forward to working with the city of Spring Hill, as they move forward with their Safe Routes to School grant application,” Goering said.
“Ensuring the safety of our students is a district priority. The city’s efforts to enable and encourage children to safely walk or bicycle to school is greatly appreciated.”