READFIELD — A sidewalk project in the works since 2006 will go out to bid soon and could start during the upcoming construction season.

The proposed sidewalk would stretch about 1.3 miles from Town Hall on Old Kents Hill Road, down Route 17 through the village, and up Millard Harrison Drive to Maranacook middle and high schools.

A survey available through the town website this week showed that 71 percent of the 162 people who had responded supported the sidewalk’s construction, and 20 percent were opposed.

“The folks who are making comments in favor of the sidewalk talk in large part about safety, about making the community a closer network, about being able to connect Readfield corner with the school and the beach, connect our network of trails,” Selectman Andrews Tolman said at an informational session this week. “The folks who are concerned are mostly concerned about finances.”

The town of Readfield has secured a $564,000 federal grant through the Safe Routes for School program that would pay all construction costs.

Town Manager Stefan Pakulski said the town government and Regional School Unit 38 — which applied for the grant jointly — would have an agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation that would commit the town and school district to maintain the sidewalk for 20 years.

Pakulski said there’s no requirement for the town to keep the sidewalk open during the winter, but if they did it would cost $5,000 to $10,000 per year, depending on how much it snows.

Resident Lenny Reay said that, based on his experience running Reay Excavation & Trucking, he thinks the town’s estimate understates the cost.

“I don’t want this to be negative about the sidewalk,” Reay said. “I want the true cost to be put before the people.”

Several people who left comments on the survey said the sidewalk would be a waste of money.

“Given the number of students who walk this route, it seems overkill when we still have pot holes and small road shoulders all over town,” one person wrote. “If this construction project is paid for with federal funds, it’s still our tax dollars paying maintenance.”

Supporters of the project say that in addition to students going to and from school, the sidewalk also would be used by people walking to the town beach during the summer, student athletes who train by running along Route 17 and local residents exercising.

The town’s section of the sidewalk would be built from a bituminous pavement. The school’s portion, running near Millard Harrison Drive, would be a crushed rock trail.

As a way of promoting physical activity, the school may require students to be dropped off at the superintendent’s office, said district Superintendent Rich Abramson.

The path would also make it easier to access cross-country trails and play a role in the district’s emergency plan, Abramson said.

“The other thing we don’t have is another way of getting our kids off the campus in the case of an emergency,” he said. “We don’t want kids in buses trying to get up and down Millard Harrison Drive as emergency vehicles are trying to get to the school.”

Resident Kathy Schulz, who lives near Kents Hill School, said the shorter section of sidewalk in that area has slowed traffic and has not required any repairs since being built in 1999.

Kents Hill School plows the sidewalk, Shulz said, and the Department of Transportation clears its drains in the spring and fall.

Mary Denison, who also lives in the Kents Hill neighborhood, said the sidewalk in front of her house has increased her property value, offers exercise opportunities and is the safest place in Readfield to trick-or-treat on Halloween.

Denison said her husband, Maranacook track coach Ronn Gifford, received a terrifying call last spring when one of the students on his team was hit by a vehicle while running on the side of the road.

The boy was not seriously hurt, Denison said.

“When I hear that the total cost of maintenance will be $5,000 or $10,000, I will defy any one of you to go up to that child’s father and say that’s too much for that safety factor,” she said at the meeting, drawing applause from the audience.

Maranacook senior Anson Olson also asked people to support the sidewalk. He started riding his bicycle to school last year and he wears an orange vest and has flashing lights on his bicycle.

He loves the activity but said it’s scary when “a Mack truck hauling logs” passes a few feet, or even a few inches, from him.

“I don’t know the effects it will have on local businessmen; I’m not well-versed on how it will affect town budgets or anything like that,” Olson said. “This is important enough to me that I will take my family’s snowblower and snowblow the whole sidewalk during the winter if it’s necessary. I don’t think the nitpicking is necessary.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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