Mendota, school children to benefit from Safe Routes to School grants awarded to city

Funds to improve safety & encourage active transportation options around schools

By Kip Cheek, Managing Editor
Posted 6/5/24

MENDOTA – Children going to school and the Mendota community as a whole will benefit from the city being the recipient of two Safe Routes to School program grants announced at a press conference attended by Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman and other state and local dignitaries on May 30 in front of Lincoln School in Mendota.

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Mendota, school children to benefit from Safe Routes to School grants awarded to city

Funds to improve safety & encourage active transportation options around schools

Posted

MENDOTA – Children going to school and the Mendota community as a whole will benefit from the city being the recipient of two Safe Routes to School program grants announced at a press conference attended by Illinois Transportation Secretary Omer Osman and other state and local dignitaries on May 30 in front of Lincoln School in Mendota.

Administered by IDOT using federal funds, Safe Routes to School supports projects and activities that improve safety and encourage active transportation options in areas around elementary, middle and high schools. Improvements include new and upgraded sidewalks, efforts to reduce speeding and other traffic offenses, public education and outreach programs.

Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Transportation announced $9.8 million in grants for local projects that will help boost the health and safety of children by making walking and biking to school safer and more accessible. The Safe Routes to School program is funding 47 projects selected from 143 applications received from local governments and schools throughout the state.

Mendota is the recipient of two grants and both of the grants had the highest review score among the 143 applications received by the state. Grant writers for the city of Mendota on these projects were Annie Short and Amy Brewer, both of whom volunteered their time and spent countless hours compiling the necessary information to submit to the state for its consideration.

One grant is in the amount of $250,000 to be used for completion and connection of sidewalks in the area of Lincoln School. The other grant total is $99,800, and is a safety audit to find the safest routes for all students to attend each of the four impacted schools – Blackstone School, Lincoln School, Northbrook School and Mendota High School. The safety audit will assist all students because the schools are structured by grade level, not neighborhoods. The safety audit being proposed will allow the community to plan, prioritize and implement safer routes and paths to each of the schools.

“Safe Routes to School has always been very special to me,” said Osman. “I was told I have to get to Mendota to see what they’re doing with this program. I am so proud to announce we are providing not one, but two awards to Mendota. One is to address sidewalk infrastructure in this immediate area (Lincoln School) and the other will fund a comprehensive safety audit for walking, biking and rolling in the community at large.

“It showed in the application to us that Mendota truly cares about its people and most vulnerable residents, and why your application scored the highest of 143 we have received. Not to mention that this was done on a voluntary basis and that is a great honor to be the highest one out of 143 we have received. I am thrilled to be here today to celebrate your success.”

Brad Cox, superintendent of Mendota Elementary District 289, said partnership within a community is reflected in Mendota being the recipient of these grants.

“They always say, it takes a village to raise a child,” said Cox. “That village component is really what you’re seeing here today.

“As you look around the area, we definitely have cracked sidewalks and sidewalks that are missing. The more we can facilitate kids getting safely to school, not only is that great for their own personal health, it’s great for getting exercise, getting accustomed to bicycling, it’s better for traffic patterns, even down to pollution.”

Being on the outskirts of Mendota, the high school is more difficult to get to aside from using a vehicle. Superintendent Denise Aughenbaugh is grateful for the Safe Routes to School grant and is excited to see how it can positively impact students getting to the high school.

“Currently, there is no safe access for our high school students to walk or bike out to the building due to the constant fast traffic on Route 251 and U.S. 52,” noted Aughenbaugh. “This grant is going to provide equitable transportation options for all of our students, whether or not they can afford a reliable vehicle. They need to be able to attend extracurricular and sporting events and be able to walk and bike home safely.”

Mayor David Boelk and the city council are well aware of the city’s need to upgrade its sidewalks, but Boelk said there is so much more that’s important that it gets misplaced every year. Now, the city can address the need with no strings attached.

“This grant is going to go to the place we can take care of the least,” Boelk said. “It’s a great deal for the residents of Mendota and takes some burden off the council. Number one out of 143 – that’s very impressive.”

Emily McConville, Mendota city clerk, said it was shocking to be at the top of the list out of 143, “but once I thought about it, it wasn’t, because I saw how many hours they (Short and Brewer) put in. They really had the community in their best interest.”

Short concluded, “This shows that if you volunteer, you can see what you can do for your city.”