• Leader & Times
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of stories concerning a joint meeting Wednesday between USD 480, the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, City of Kismet, City of Liberal, Seward County Community College, Seward County and Southwest Medical Center.
Today’s story centers on collaborative projects between SCCC and the Liberal Area Coalition for Families. Other stories will focus on a comprehensive plan for some of the entities represented at the meeting and economic development models for the city and county.
The Liberal Area Coalition for Families and Seward County Community College have been partnering on the implementation of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Pathways grant for some time.
At the May 23 joint meeting with SCCC’s Board of Trustees and several other local boards, officials with LACF and the college, along with the director of consulting for the Missouri-based advocacy firm PedNet, talked about getting a bicycle and pedestrian plan to help create some of what the grant will help put in place in Liberal.
PedNet Consulting Director Robert Johnson said such a plan helps with connectivity, safety and opportunity on a local level.
“By connectivity, I mean can a boy or girl in Liberal ride their bike from point A to point B to point C,” he said. “Can he ride that to the water park? Can he ride it to the library? Can he ride to school without having dangerous highways and intersections and that sort of thing?”
Johnson said a plan could likewise ensure safe walking around the community for people of all ages as well as opportunities to remain physically active.
“A bike/ped plan is basically a document with maps and renderings and cost estimates that offer infrastructure improvement suggestions as well as policy improvement suggestions for every single street in every neighborhood,” he said. “How it’s created is there is an extensive public input process. There’s a Web site, which we’ve actually already created for the community, and there’s public input meetings. That sort of public input is critically important because I’m not from Liberal. I could spend weeks here, and our team will spend weeks here, but still someone will say something like, ‘Well I’ve noticed there’s a hole in the fence over there. I’ve seen kids coming through that hole in the fence to get to the water park, or I’ve seen families cut across this lot to the grocery store.’ There’s so much information that only locals can provide.”
That research, Johnson said, will include a thorough inventory of sidewalks in the community.
“If you think about a single block, there may be six homes on one side of the block, six homes on the other,” he said. “That’s 12 data points. You end up collecting data on sidewalks. You end up planning all the new infrastructure that’s possible, and then through the work of an oversight committee, that’s narrowed down from what’s possible to what’s really practical and feasible and what’s going to be useful working towards the future.”
Johnson said traditional thinking needs to be reversed before any new infrastructure can be instituted.
“People often don’t want to plan for things if they don’t yet have the money to build them,” he said. “I’m of the mindset of if you don’t have the plan, you’ll never have the money. You’ll be prepared to land grant applications once this plan is complete.”
LACF Director Sarah Foreman said the Pathways grant is for $500,000, and $400,000 of that money goes directly into the community.
“In the community policy Pathway, there is money to conduct the master bike and pedestrian plan,” she said. “What it means for our community is we’re spending some money to hopefully bring more money into Liberal. We’ll be one of the only communities in Southwest Kansas that has the master bike and pedestrian plan. When we go to write grants, we will be shovel ready, and we’ll be able to apply for some of the bigger grants.”
The assessment PedNet would do would cost $42,000, and Foreman said she believes this would be a good investment in the Liberal community.
“I confidently say the college is on board with this, starting the trail system out there,” she said.
Foreman said part of LACF’s goal with grant writing is to bring larger entities and employers on board with coalition project.
“We’re not going against each other, that we have a similar plan,” she said.
Foreman said if some of the Pathway funds can be spent somewhere else, she can then write another grant to match those funds.
“For example, I would like for K-State Extension to have a greenhouse that works all year to be able to teach kids about gardening and planting and life cycles,” she said. “I can use some of those funds for that to provide additional funds. However, we have to pay for the entire pedestrian/biking plan. We can’t use those funds that are matching. What we’re asking is for a small investment from several entities, and we will pay for the bigger chunk of that.”
Foreman emphasized to the gathering at the joint meeting that she had not signed a contract with PedNet yet.
“I would like to do that in the next two to four weeks,” she said. “The plan does take six months complete, and I want to be able to start applying for grants in January. The sooner that we would have commitment, the better.”
Seward County Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey said a plan needs to be put together using more than just a template from another project.
“How personalized is this to our community?” he said. “What can we do to ensure that it is personalized to our community and not just have a template and fill in the blanks?”
Foreman said this is exactly what both LACF and SCCC had in mind with a bicycle and pedestrian plan.
“When we were looking at places to do this, that was something that was also important to us,” she said. “Their team will spend approximately a month here walking the streets and sidewalks, taking different data points to collect this. I think the plan will be very individualized.”
Foreman said LACF will host community meetings with PedNet to seek input and start working on a plan later this year.
SCCC President Dr. Ken Trzaska said the college just earned another grant to help extend its current trail, and the school is working with the coalition on that project.
“That’ll help us,” he said. “We’ve been able to earn nearly $200,000 worth of grants in the last couple of years without a plan, so we just imagine what we’ll be able what we can actually show grant organizations that here is the big picture vision that incorporates the entire community of Liberal, Kansas.”