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Lakeland Drive underpass proposed at site of new Willmar school

WILLMAR -- A bike and pedestrian underpass could be a solution to helping children safely cross Lakeland Drive once the new Willmar elementary school is built.The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted this week to approve the concept.Nume...

WILLMAR - A bike and pedestrian underpass could be a solution to helping children safely cross Lakeland Drive once the new Willmar elementary school is built.
The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted this week to approve the concept.
Numerous details still need to be worked out, including how the underpass might be funded.
But the County Commissioners voiced clear support for the idea, saying there needs to be a safe way for children to cross the busy road to the new school.
“It really falls into a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned,” said Harlan Madsen.
The Willmar School District also has indicated support.
The School District will break ground later this year for a new elementary school on the southeast side of town, between Lakeland Drive and Willmar Avenue. When the school opens in August 2017, it will house about 500 students from preschool through fifth grade.
As work starts in earnest on site planning and design, Kandiyohi County officials want to make sure traffic safety is part of the conversation, said Larry Kleindl, county administrator.
“We have awfully young children crossing one of the busiest intersections in our community,” he said.
County officials, along with representatives of the Willmar School District, the city of Willmar and Willmar Municipal Utilities, participated in a recent joint meeting to discuss some of the issues that will need to be addressed as construction plans move forward for the new school.
The county has had plenty of experience with the traffic concerns that surface whenever a new school is built.
“Almost every school or college in the county is on or just off a county road,” Kleindl said.
Discussing the issues now, while the new school is in the design phase, will help address the concerns sooner rather than later, he said. “It is being forward-thinking.”
“We’d have to start doing some planning,” agreed Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director.
County officials have already identified a good location for a bike and pedestrian underpass: about halfway between Olena Avenue and the entrance to the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA. They noted that Lakeland Drive has a higher elevation at that point, making it easier to accommodate an underpass.
Besides allowing students to safely cross Lakeland Drive to and from school, the proposed underpass could be a bonus to the local trail system. It also would help get kids safely to the YMCA for after-school activities, Kleindl said.
Costs haven’t been pinned down yet but the staff of the Kandiyohi County Public Works Department estimates it will take about $175,000 to build an underpass.
A source of funding hasn’t been identified either. Odens said there are some options, however, including turnback funds that will be available as Kandiyohi County completes the process of turning over this segment of Lakeland Drive to the city of Willmar’s jurisdiction. Another possibility is the federal Safe Routes to School program.
Odens said conversations will continue with all the entities involved, along with discussion about school bus traffic at the site of the new school.
“I think that’s something we need to revisit,” he said.

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