Kyle Troutman: Sidewalk situation is not so simple

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

For the past 18 months, and ramping up in the past couple weeks, the Cassville school district has been dealing with an issue seemingly outside of the realm of education -- sidewalks.

Troutman

The issue began for the district a year-and-a-half ago, when it put together a committee to study and deal with the impending Missouri Department of Transportation sidewalk project, where the department has been tasked by the U.S. Justice Department to make all sidewalks within MoDOT's right-of-way compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For Cassville, this project includes two sections along Main Street, from Seventh Street to 10th Street, and from 10th Street to 17th Street.

Being a MoDOT project, the district recognized it would have to work with the state organization as best as it could, seeing as the district itself has no real say on how MoDOT will use its land.

Unfortunately, for some of the Cassville graduates -- from 1922-72, honored with their names engraved on a section of MoDOT-owned sidewalks along Main Street -- this presented a problem for the district.

How does the district continue to honor those graduates while also allowing MoDOT the ability to do its job?

The answer to that question seemed simple enough for the committee, as it came up with a plan to build a commemorative plaque, which would hold the names of those on the sidewalks slated to be removed.

However, a communication issue between MoDOT and the school district reared its ugly head.

Kristi Bachman, MoDOT project manager, was quoted as saying, "Our plan at the beginning was to leave the sidewalks intact, but when we met with the superintendent of schools, [Richard Asbill], he mentioned the new [commemorative plaque plan] and that they were fine with [the sidewalks] being removed, so that's how the change came about."

Asbill refuted the claim, saying the district informed MoDOT of the historical significance of the sidewalks and was formulating a set of options to accommodate the project.

Because of the miscommunication, three MoDOT officials and three district administrators met on Dec. 15 to hash out the facts of the sidewalk situation.

On Thursday, one week after the quote was released, two of the MoDOT officials, Bachman and Engineer Beth Schaller, came to the Cassville School Board meeting and apologized to Asbill and the Board of Education for misrepresenting the district's intentions.

When it comes down to it, the options for the district are limited.

Can the district convince MoDOT to not build a new sidewalk or remove the existing one? Not unless it wants to fight the state and the Department of Justice in a costly -- and ultimately fruitless -- legal battle. The new sidewalk is going in, and that's that.

Could MoDOT build a sidewalk next to the existing sidewalk? No. Although that was the original plan, a few obstacles ruled it out. City water and sewer lines, as well as electric lines, flank the current sidewalk on both sides. So, if there were ever an issue with those lines, the brand new sidewalk would have to be ripped out, a risk MoDOT is not willing to take. Coupled with that are issues with engineering of the crosswalk and elevations, a possible relinquishing of district land to MoDOT for building a second sidewalk, and an issue with such a proposed sidewalk having to curve around manhole covers, creating an ADA issue with visibility for the blind.

Could the district use heavy equipment to remove the sidewalks and salvage them? Possibly, but not likely. Because of how the sidewalks were built, experts from public and private entities have said they would fall apart if a backhoe was taken to them. On top of that, any person who took a backhoe to that land, which belongs to MoDOT, would have to be insured, licensed and bonded with the state organization, meaning the district could not even use its own people or locals to complete such a task.

Taking all that into consideration, it was determined the existing sidewalks, which are falling apart in many places as is, are going to be removed whether anyone likes it or not.

People not happy with the solution can take solace in the fact the Cassville school district, instead of letting that piece of history crumble into non-existence, is working with local photographers to preserve the names as best it can.

The district is still in the design phase for its commemorative plaque, but its goal is to preserve the history contained within the sidewalks, as well as give graduates higher visibility in an area for alumni and the community to enjoy.

While the sidewalk project is certainly not to everyone's liking, the district should be given credit for being one step ahead and doing all it can to keep history alive.

Kyle Troutman is the editor of the Cassville Democrat. He can be reached at editor@cassville-democrat.com or at 417-847-2610.