Students walking to River Ridge Elementary to get new sidewalk

By this fall, children walking to and from River Ridge Elementary should have a much safer route along Military Road South.

An interlocal agreement between the Kent School District and the city of SeaTac will lead to construction this summer along the east side of the road of a bike lane, curb and gutter, a 6-foot wide sidewalk, a 6-foot wide landscape strip and pedestrian level lighting, according to district and city documents.

River Ridge, 22420 Military Road S., just east of Interstate 5, opened last fall. It’s in the city of SeaTac but part of the Kent School District. The Kent School Board approved the interlocal agreement May 25. The SeaTac City Council approved the contract March 8.

“Upon the opening and operation of River Ridge Elementary in the fall of 2021, Kent School District recognized the need for improvements along the east side of Military Road South for children walking to school,” according to a district statement.

The shoulder has a walking path, but no sidewalk until reaching the school property along the road. The improvements will extend from the existing frontage improvements at River Ridge, south to the SeaTac city limit with the city of Kent, which is where a new sidewalk will exist next to the new Alexan Gateway Apartments, 23040 Military Road S., scheduled to open in September.

The project will cost an estimated $1.5 million, with the district paying an estimated $750,000 to $975,000 and the city paying $500,000, according to district and city documents.

The district will cover the costs by increasing its River Ridge construction budget, which was approved by voters as part of the 2016 bond measure. The SeaTac City Council diverted funds from another street improvement project in order to get the River Ridge project done sooner.

“Recognizing the need for these improvements to be constructed as soon as possible to provide a safer route for children attending the new school, both the city and the district have agreed to target a completion of construction August 2022,” according to city documents. “Both parties recognize that this is a very aggressive schedule and that meeting it will require almost flawless execution and few complications with respect to utilities and right-of-way acquisition.”

The city of SeaTac will pay for all right-of-way acquisition costs, project permitting and review costs, project inspection costs and manage/coordinate any franchise utility relocations. The Kent School District agreed to perform and pay for all project related design and construction costs that are not otherwise provided by the city of SeaTac.

“The city has been very gracious,” said Dave Bussard, district executive director of Operations & Facilities, to the school board. “They will take care of permitting and utilities. There are people on the east side of road who will get some property taken by eminent domain (by the city).”

Dog park route denied

Kent School District staff wanted to build a walking path from the back of the Grandview Apartments, 3900 Veterans Drive, through the Grandview Off-Leash Dog Park, 3507 S. 228th St., to River Ridge, which is just north of the dog park.

“We wanted a pathway from the back of Grandview Apartments into the dog park,” Bussard said to the board. “We could utilize a pathway cut through the dog park (on the paved on-leash area) and come up the back of the (school) property with kids not even touching Military Road. But the dog park board rejected the plan, and the SeaTac city manager upheld it.”

That rejection surprised Michele Bettinger, one of five school board directors.

“So they’d rather have kids walk on dangerous roads than walk through a dog park,” said Bettinger, who then asked Bussard why dog park and city leaders rejected that plan.

“Their biggest concern was our students would torment the dogs through the fence as they walk to and from school,” Bussard said.

The dog park is owned by the city of SeaTac, but a local nonprofit group helps oversee it.

Elynn Miller Clayton, president of Dogs of Grandview Supporters (DOGS), explained in a June 2 email to the Kent Reporter why the group opposed the path.

“There are literally hundreds of dogs running full speed around the park,” Clayton said. “Park users have to be very attentive to the actions of the dogs so they don’t get knocked over or otherwise hurt. Additionally, park users need to be aware of dog behavior, dog body language, and know things like how to approach a dog. They need to know not to run and yell, etc. around dogs…things that children naturally do in the course of playing or when they are excited.

“We have had many, many issues with children in the park, most from the Grandview Apartments next to the park (who would be some of those who would use a path through the park), who enter the park without adult supervision. They taunt the dogs, throw rocks at dogs and park users, prop the gate open so dogs can escape, climb on the gates which breaks them (park user donations paid for the fencing and gates which was needed to try to keep the kids out of the park), light fireworks off in the park and have caught the park on fire, unroll all the plastic bags and string them all over the park, etc.”

Clayton said the group opposed the pathway through the dog park several times, including in March 2021 and December 2021 when city officials told them about the proposal by the school district.

“The bottom line is that Grandview is a dog park, not a walk-through park for children, and not a place for children to play…it is a dog park… a place for dogs,” Clayton said.

Bussard said the shoulder of Military Road from Veterans Drive to River Ridge is a wide enough walking path, but the issue is the city is having hard time managing speed on that road.

“When the school was being built, I watched police pull people over doing over 75 mph on the road,” Bussard told the school board. “The dog park, in my professional and personal opinion as a parent and grandparent is how I’d want my children to walk to school.”

Clayton shared her email to city of SeaTac Parks Department staff after they told her about the path proposal in March 2021.

“I’m shocked Kent would even consider this,” Clayton said. “The liability for the city of SeaTac, DOGS, and the Kent School District would be astronomical! Dog parks are not a place for kids! I cannot emphasize this enough! I’m absolutely flabbergasted this was even suggested.”

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Article Source: Kent Reporter