MoPac Trail extension: A definite maybe
In 34 days, USD 257 voters will head to the polls to decide whether to approve construction of a new elementary school, most likely just off Kentucky Street in East Iola.
That leads to a question from Iolan Randy Rasa for this week's Ask The Register: If the school is approved, will the city commit to extending either the Missouri Pacific Trail or Katy Trail corridor, and implement other safety measures, such as sidewalks and crosswalks?
The thought surrounding the question involves walkability — getting kids to school without using four-wheeled transportation.
While a new school is farther away from Iola’s downtown hub as either Lincoln or Jefferson elementary schools are, it would carry one advantage over the current system: the new facility would be all-inclusive.
For decades, all three of Iola’s grade schools were traditional neighborhood schools.
That changed in 2015, when USD 257 converted each to attendance centers: all kindergartners now attend McKinley Elementary School, they move to Jefferson for first and second grade and finally to Lincoln for third and fourth grade. (Fifth-graders, meanwhile, are taught at Iola Middle School.)
One of the byproducts of shifting to attendance centers — at least anecdotally — is that fewer youngsters are walking to school. Parents are less apt to send their kids out their front doors if one sibling must head north to Lincoln, while the other traverses to another school several blocks way on his own.
That issue would be answered in an all-inclusive elementary school.
As to safety measures, both City Administrator Sid Fleming and Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock said crosswalks over Kentucky Street are a virtual certainty.
Iola would be required to work with the Kansas Department of Transportation to add crosswalks over U.S. 54, Fleming added, because it’s a federal highway.
Schinstock also envisioned a flashing light or other traffic signal — perhaps similar to the Prairie Spirit Trail’s crossing along North State Street — somewhere near the proposed school site.
Iola City Council members were intrigued, but noncommital, when asked about extending the Missouri Pacific trail through East Iola if voters approve construction of a new elementary school. The above map shows another possible route (along an undeveloped Benton Street corridor) the extension could follow. Image courtesy of GOOGLE MAPS
BUT WHAT about the MoPac Trail?
In 2015, the city converted more than 3,500 feet of the east-west rail corridor into a hard-surface walking and biking path, stretching from the Prairie Spirit Trail to the Iola High School tennis courts.
Should it be extended through the east part of town?
The question posed to Mayor Jon Wells, whose response — “yes, and no” — comes with an explanation.
“It should definitely be up for conversation, and should probably be high on the conversation list,” Wells said, if the school is built.
The extension, however, might be more beneficial if it follows another corridor instead of the MoPac, he continued, because the rail line begins veering to the southeast once it passes Cottonwood Street.
Another undeveloped piece of city right-of-way, Benton Street, goes straight to the east from where the MoPac ends.
“That might be much easier for the city to consider,” Schinstock agreed.
As Schinstock noted, the city briefly considered extending the MoPac to Kentucky Street and points beyond then, but decided against it because it runs through residential areas.
In any event, extending trails comes with a price tag. Building the first stretch of the MoPac — a 10-foot-wide concrete path — came in at a shade under $500,000.
Eighty percent of the price tag came from a $369,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation. The city’s cost of the construction came to $92,000.
Iola also was responsible for paying about $33,000 in design costs.
Schinstock noted the city has not investigated costs to extend the trail, and probably won’t until voters have their say on the school.
The extension would be about 1,000 feet shorter than the first stretch if planners agree on the Benton Street route, which could pare costs, although the city might have to consider property acquisition along some stretches.
There’s also the option of using less costly surfaces, such as gravel.
Fleming, meanwhile, noted Iola has residents east of Kentucky Street as well. While Kentucky has sidewalks, many of the streets east of Kentucky do not. He said any trail extension should include thoughts of adding a sidewalk or walking path along the Benton corridor as well.
CITY COUNCIL members surveyed on the topic were intrigued, but non-committal.
“It’s only natural that if we want the students to be able to walk, we would make the new school a little more accessible,” Councilman Aaron Franklin said. “Now, the cost to do that needs to come into the evaluation, obviously.”
Fellow councilmen Danny Mathew and Ron Ballard agreed.
“We’re trying to control our costs,” Ballard said.
VOTING continues through tonight on the next Ask The Register question:
This week’s questions:
— Was heavy equipment buried on the proposed site? How would this affect the costs of contamination cleanup? — Linda Troxel, Iola
— If the bond passes, will the increased taxes affect all of Allen Co. or only those who live in USD 257? — Rita Bernsten, Iola
— How’s the city council attracting new business? Are there plans if the bond issue doesn’t increase growth? — Gary Cardell, Iola
Readers are encouraged to cast their vote on which topic should be covered in depth by voting here.