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Selectboard to Hear Plan For Sidewalks in Wilder

Wilder — Aurora Day Care sits on Christian Street, in a house set back slightly from the curving road. On any given day, about 40 children attend, and many who live nearby walk there with their parents.

In the summer, it’s not too bad, said Noreen Arnold, who has owned the day care center for 10 years. But in the winter, snowbanks along the road’s narrow shoulder make it difficult for pedestrians when cars swing by.

“You never know with the drivers,” Arnold said.

The precarious walking conditions may soon change, though, as town officials consider adding to Hartford’s 10-mile network of sidewalks. A feasibility study recently completed by White River Junction-based Resource Systems Group has identified three Wilder streets — Route 5 near the Dothan Brook School, Christian Street and Bugbee Street — that would benefit from sidewalk improvements, widened shoulders and grass buffers.

The town paid for the study via a $27,000 grant from the federal Safe Routes to School program, according to town planner Matt Osborn.

The plans are segmented by street, but when all recommendations are considered together, preliminary estimates place the cost of the project at $3.7 million. However, it’s too early to know if all of the sections identified by Resource Systems Group will be given the OK by town officials, Osborn said, or what the actual costs would turn out to be.

“It’s the first piece,” Osborn said of the study. “It’s sort of pre-engineering, or just conceptual engineering.”

The next step is a June 11 presentation to the Selectboard, at which residents can their input. The presentation was originally planned for the Selectboard meeting this coming Tuesday, but was postponed.

The June meeting won’t be the first showing of the study. In March, parents and members of the Dothan Brook School PTO had the opportunity to get the specifics, and according the organization’s president, most there were highly supportive of the project.

The study recommends a sidewalk on the school’s side of Route 5, starting at Christian Street and extending to the Hartford-Norwich town line, as well as widened shoulders on both sides of the street.

Besides addressing safety concerns, proponents of those improvements noted that new sidewalks could serve as a town-wide connective tissue.

“It’s not pedestrian safe or bike safe,” said Rick Dustin-Eichler, Dothan Brook principal, referring to Route 5. “I would hate for us to wait until somebody gets hurt for us to look at this.”

The Route 5 sections combine for a total cost of $1.5 million.

The main criticism of the Route 5 improvements, said Gabrielle Lucke, who has served as PTO president for two years, was that the proposed sidewalks don’t extend far enough in some places, notably the curved end of Christian Street near the intersection with Route 14.

“I think that’s one of the more challenging parts of Christian Street,” Lucke said.

The area marked for improvements on Christian Street is a mile-long section of road beginning at its intersection with Bugbee Street. It would receive improvements including sidewalks and grass buffers. That section of the project would cost of $1.3 million.

The $860,000 Bugbee Street section of the project extends from its intersection with Christian Street to Route 5, Osborn said, and hadn’t even been considered by the town before the study came out.

Whether work will actually occur there is up to the town and public.

“It’s very expensive to put in sidewalks and curbing, and so the community has to make a decision,” Osborn said.

Yesterday afternoon, Chris Andreasson, of Wilder, crossed Route 5 near the Dothan Brook School, on his way from his job at Advance Transit to walk along the village’s existing bike path, which winds to the school from Colonial Drive. Andreasson said he doesn’t see many walkers along the busy Route 5 corridor, but wouldn’t mind if the street he bikes on was a bit more accommodating.

“I’d love to see a shoulder, at least, on Christian (Street), but I’m not sure a sidewalk is necessary,” he said.

Several people yesterday agreed that while the potential improvements — especially along Route 5 — would make the village safer for students, sidewalks and related improvements would serve a larger purpose.

“This isn’t only about our kids,” said Lucke, who has a son in fifth grade at the Dothan Brook School. “This is really about the health and wellness of our entire community.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.