Windermere’s Safe Route to School project is just the beginning of a master plan that eventually will connect the entire town.
| 8:29 a.m. October 6, 2021
The town of Windermere is building multimodal connectivity by correcting an old mistake.
The Safe Route to School project will connect North Avenue to Windermere Elementary School with sidewalk improvements, wider trails and a new pedestrian bridge. Designs include paths measuring 10 feet wide, a 60-foot berm and new landscaping. Plans will be complete by late November, and construction should begin within six months.
“That is the most heavily traveled area for schoolchildren,” Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith said. “Right now, when we get a heavy storm, the dirt roadway washes onto the sidewalk.”
Smith also pointed out the need to replace the aging bridge at South Lake Butler Boulevard and Dirt Main Street.
“The rationale behind the trail is to make sure pedestrians and children have a safe way to get to school,” Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien said. “Right now, there’s some sidewalk, there’s some road … it’s not ideal. The other reason is… we needed a new bridge to allow golf carts to pass. Also wheelchairs and any assistive devices.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Safe Route to School represents the first phase of a master-plan concept based on residents’ requests for wider, more user-friendly paths connecting neighborhoods, parks and the downtown area. According to Smith, the concept began in early 2014 and grew to include access to The Grove shopping and dining complex on South Apopka Vineland Road.
“We’re still acquiring properties between North and Second avenues, and that will connect (Safe Routes to School) to the downtown area,” said Smith. “Phase Two will be from downtown, east to The Grove, and Phase Three will be from Sixth Avenue down to 12th Avenue.”
O’Brien said the town has made commitments to preserve existing irrigation, wells and other systems installed by the previous landowners. And the town’s clubs and organizations will be offered opportunities to landscape segments of the overall path to promote ownership of the project.
“In the end, we’ll have one unified piece of land that will be all maintained and landscaped,” he said.
In July, U.S. Rep. Val Demings announced funding for 10 Central Florida community projects were approved by the House Appropriations Committee, including $760,000 for Phase One of Safe Route to School. O’Brien and Smith say plans to discuss additional funding through the West Orange Healthcare District’s Healthy West Orange Trails Initiative are currently in the works.
“Providing safe routes to school for our students to enjoy walking and biking with their friends and families is a wonderful way to support the healthy well-being of all,” Windermere Elementary School Principal Dr. Diana Greer said. “I am looking forward to the increased engagement we will see from our families as a result of this project.”
“It checks every box, it’s positive after positive,” O’Brien said of Windermere Ward Trail. “It’ll be good today, and it’s going to be good 50 years from now.”