READFIELD — It took several years of preparations, and then a few weeks longer than anticipated to build, but there is finally a sidewalk running through the center of town.

Construction was finished recently on the 1.3-mile sidewalk, and a ceremonial walk is planned for 9 a.m. Saturday. It will start at the town office and end with a reception at Maranacook Community High School.

Readfield and Regional School Unit 38 began working on the project in 2006. They applied for and secured a $564,000 federal grant through the Safe Routes to School program. Construction of the sidewalk was planned for summer 2011, but pushed back to this year.

Town Manager Stefan Pakulski said the selectmen granted McGee Construction a three-week extension because they encountered more rock ledge than they anticipated.

While the portion on school property — which takes the form of a crushed-rock trail alongside Millard Harrison Drive — was finished when classes started on Aug. 29, the town’s portion still needed some work at that time.

Starting at the town office at Giles Hall, a bituminous pavement sidewalk runs along the northern side of Route 17 and connects to the trail leading up the hill to Maranacook high school and the middle school.

While the safety of students was a primary concern, Pakulski said he sees many others using the sidewalk.

“I’ve heard of people actually driving over here from other areas to walk because it’s a nice linking of the trail that goes to the woods, as well as the sidewalk,” he said.

RSU 38 Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said she frequently sees people walking their dogs on the sidewalk when she leaves work.

Rosalea Kimball, the Maranacook cross-country coach, said the sidewalk makes it safer to run along Route 17 to reach side roads where there is less traffic.

“I don’t have any problem now with telling kids to go down and run along there at all,” she said. “Last year I definitely would have issues with telling them to do that.”

When school let out on one afternoon this week, a handful of students used the sidewalk to get at least partway home.

Freshman Justine Richardson said she had convinced sophomore Jacob Cox to skip the bus because it was too nice a day not to walk. She said she feels safe on the sidewalk.

Readfield residents Chris and Stacey Shaw have started a new routine with their sons, who are in eighth, ninth and 10th grades. Every afternoon they park at the Town Office and walk their Great Dane most of the way to school, stopping at the superintendent’s office halfway up Millard Harrison Drive because of the dog.

“They know to meet me right there and walk back to the town office,” Stacey Shaw said. “They can walk in the woods, but this is a better walk.”

Chris Shaw said the sidewalk provides a new outlet for exercise for all members of their family.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

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