Keep our schools in heart of town

October 22, 2007 12:00 am

To the editor:

Progressive communities such as Hood River are recognizing the value of "sustainable schools" which are close to the heart of their communities and reduce the need for energy-consumptive transportation. Schools should be community-centered and "walkable," within walking or biking distance for students, volunteers and seniors.

Walkable schools provide a healthier, safer option for our kids, and enable more students to participate in after-school activities, including sports and music. Parents can be freed of constant chauffeur duty. "School siting practices have helped engineer physical activity out of the life of our children," says John Chism, manager of Oregon's Physical Activity and Nutrition Program. "Kids need to develop good physical activity habits at an early age. Walking and biking to school help to do that." Building a new school at the north edge of town would make the distance and time impractical for most students.

Schools on the outskirts of town bear other hidden transportation costs. Baker City taxpayers would need to pay up front for the traffic study, then for the paving of streets and sidewalks to access an edge-of-town school. But operating and maintaining school buses with escalating fuel prices would continue for the life of the school. A recent headline in The Oregonian proclaimed: "School Bus Fuel Prices Drain Budgets." Statewide costs for K-12 transportation jumped from $120 million in the 2000-01 school year to $143 million in 2005-06. To build a new middle school on the edge of town would reinforce a bad trend. The renovation of our existing older, community-centered schools can help to keep our education budget available for classroom learning rather than fuel for buses.

The renovation of our existing middle school provides significant community-cohesion benefits. Students and community members can take pride in preserving the history of those wonderful old buildings. Our schools can continue to be accessible for volunteers and seniors, and community activity can continue to focus on our central, downtown district.

Helpful links:

"Schools at the Heart of Communities" —www.osba.org/hotopics/imprvmnt/neighborhoodschools

"Walkable Neighborhood Schools" — www.oregon.gov/LCD/TGM/walkableschools.shtml

"Safe Routes to School" — www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TS/saferoutes.shtml.

Kathryn Bulinski

Baker City