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The City of Galax and Galax City Public Schools are seeking a Safe Routes to School grant, administered through the Virginia Department of Transportation, that would improve walking and biking safety for students, said Galax Superintendent Bill Sturgill during Tuesday's school board meeting.
The grant may provide funding to plan and develop improvements and create infrastructure.
One of the main focuses would be to improve the parent drop-off and pick-up areas at the elementary school. Currently, parents and buses share the same common entry, said Sturgill, “and that's something we would like to improve and separate.”
Sidewalks would also be improved and connect from the elementary to high school. And, a sidewalk would be created from the high school down through Maroon Tide Drive to make it safer for students that walk from school to the Galax Recreation Center.
Sturgill said administrators will soon assess how many students walk and ride bikes to and from school each day.
“There are enough walkers and bike riders that we feel that the schools would benefit from this,” said Sturgill.
Safe Routes to School was designed to encourage more walking and biking up through grade eight, said Galax's grant administrator, Brenda Marrah.
The concept is to remove barriers and improve and create infrastructure to promote walking and biking. Marrah said programs would then be created that would urge children, parents and the community to walk and bike to school.
“Thirty years ago, 60 percent of children walked or biked to school. Today, less than 15 percent are walking and riding bikes to school,” said Marrah. “So not only is this for safety, but it's also related to health, since childhood obesity is on the rise... We're extremely excited about this.”
About 25 percent of students commute by school bus, and more than half are driven to or from school by car.
Thirty years ago, about 5 percent of children between six to 11 were overweight or obese. Today, that number is at 20 percent.
Safe Routes to School Programs are intended to reverse these trends by funding projects that improve safety and efforts that promote walking and biking.
“This is just a tremendous benefit for the schools and the community,” said Marrah. “We definitely want as many parents as possible to support this.”
Sturgill noted that this is a three-year, non-competitive grant of up to $500,000. Deadline for the initial grant application is next month.
Galax City Council will receive public comment on the program at its Jan. 24 meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers.
In other action, the board approved a program of studies for the high school and approved an overnight trip.