New sidewalk project finally completed after longstanding concerns over budget and land rights
By Alyssa Birkeland, Current Staff
As classes resumed at the high schools in September, not much had changed since June. Students walked down the same halls, sat in the same classrooms, and saw mostly familiar faces. But one thing stood out for those who enter on the East side: a new sidewalk that stretches over a quarter mile between the school and Sand Drive.
The sole purpose of the sidewalk is to protect students walking along River Road from traffic. Former alderman Randy Koehler is credited with its installation. Koehler suggested the change to the city in 2011, but it did not get approved until last year. Construction began in late July and was completed before school started in September.
Koehler, who regularly drives past the school during the busiest times, has been very proactive about the need for safer options to commute to and from school. “It scared me to see these people walking along, 10 feet away from cars going 50 miles an hour,” Koehler said.
East sophomore Alex Kardaris is happy to take advantage of the safer alternative. Last year he worried when walking to school. “Every time I heard a big vehicle I had to step off to the side. I think they should have stopped a lot or went a lot slower,” Kardaris said. He also enjoys the smoother route of the sidewalk, compared to the gravel shoulder he walked in the past.
But this addition did not come without difficulty. Koehler originally proposed the sidewalk as a part of the city’s capital improvement project four years ago, but it was continually rejected due to cost and problems with the rights to River Road. When the the project was passed in 2014, the city had to manipulate ownership of Highway G with the county. Since the city could not build in the county’s right-of-way, they agreed to trade ownership of one city road, Schmidt Road, for ownership of the county highway.
“It scared me to see people walking along, 10 feet away from cars going 50 miles an hour.”
– Randy Koehler, former city alderman
Cost was also an important factor in the original decision to turn down the plan. “The project was right around $150,000, give or take,” said Mayor Kraig Sadownikow.
Eventually the importance of student safety prevailed. Although the sidewalk came with a price tag, Koehler believes that a price can’t be put on the benefits it provides. “Like I’ve told everybody, if it saves one kid’s life, we’ve more than [justified] the cost,” Koehler said.
With the installment of the sidewalk now in the books, one question is left: Who will take care of it? For the portion of the sidewalk that lies on school grounds, it will be the school’s duty to snow blow. Dave Ross, director of facilities, said that district employees will clear snow from the sidewalk up to the high school property line.
But as for the majority that is not on campus, it will follow the same rules as other sidewalks throughout West Bend. “Any sidewalk in the city is the responsibility of whoever’s property is along that sidewalk,” Sadownikow said. That means that the owner of the farm fields along River Road will be responsible for the sidewalk’s maintenance, including clearing snow in the winter.
While Koehler was not re-elected for another term as alderman in 2015, he was happy to see through the sidewalk’s construction. Many years of students to come are sure to be grateful for his efforts as well.
To learn what WBHS cross country athletes are saying about the new sidewalk, click here.