Orchard Hill Elementary takes 'Safe Routes to School'

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jun. 6, 2013
Orchard Hill students and staff watched the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, June 5. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Orchard Hill students and staff watched the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, June 5. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

Students may not walk or bike to school as much as they did “back in the day,” but the Safe Routes to School program hopes to change that. The program enables infrastructure improvements at schools and surrounding neighborhoods to make pedestrian traffic safer and more viable for children. On Wednesday, June 5, Orchard Hill Elementary School cut the ribbon on improvements that were funded by this program.

“This came about as a grant that came from the federal government,” said Town Planner Michele Lipe to an assembly of Orchard Hill students and staff, as well as local officials and guests. The Safe Routes to School program provided South Windsor funds through the State Department of Transportation. “It's been a project that has really involved all levels of government,” Lipe said.

The improvements were mostly completed last December, said Town Engineer Jeffrey Dolittle. They include raised crosswalks, new sidewalks around the school, ramps around the neighborhood to allow handicap access to the walkways, speed humps around Orchard Hill - as well as neighboring Timothy Edwards Middle School - to discourage speeding motorists, and a pathway from Timothy Edwards to adjoining neighborhoods. Radar speed signs have been installed, and will soon be activated by CL&P. “We hope you enjoy these improvements and stay safe for years to come,” Dolittle said.

According to Lipe, the motivator behind the project was the observation that most students took the bus to school. “We've really gotten away from what I used to do as a kid, which was walk to school,” she said. The infrastructure improvements are meant to encourage a revival in walking and biking to Orchard Hill and Timothy Edwards from the surrounding neighborhoods. “I've seen a lot of sidewalks planned and built over the years, and to me, there's nothing better than seeing you kids using them,” Lipe said. “I hope we can do more of this around town.”

James P. Redeker, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, was in attendance at the ribbon-cutting. “This is a great success story,” he told the assembled children. “I can remember 50 years ago, I rode my bike to school every day, and when I was in high school, I walked 3 miles to school each way every day. Now, people don't do that, which surprises me.” He applauded Orchard Hill for being a leader in a walking/biking revival.

Mayor Thomas Delnicki, an Orchard Hill alum, stated that the project not only benefits the students, but neighbors living in the area. “It's not only a win-win for you guys, but it's also a win-win for the neighborhood,” he told students.

Orchard Hill Principal Michael Tortora is not just the school principal, but a parent of two children who walk or ride to the school daily. “The Safe Routes to School program has made walking and riding a viable option not just for them, but for all the boys and girls around our neighborhoods,” he said. “With safety being such a national topic this year, the Safe Routes to School program really exemplifies our commitment to making sure kids are safe outside of our schools.”

Eli Terry Elementary is the next school slated for Safe Routes to School infrastructure improvements. The town hopes to replace a pedestrian bridge that connects the back of Eli Terry to an adjacent neighborhood. The project is currently in the final stages of design and permitting, and construction may begin as early as next summer.

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