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How students travel to and from school can have a big impact on their health. Schools located in residential neighborhoods allow children to be more physically active by walking or riding bicycles to get to school. Factors such as the cost of land can favor locations on the outskirts of residential communities.
In her role as Health Educator for the Kittitas County Public Health Department, Sarah Bedsaul promotes the key role of school siting in helping children to be more active. Walkability and bikeability can be assessed and improved near schools, by adding crosswalks in the right location by traffic calming measures, for example.
But when a district faces the need for expanding a school or building a new one, Bedsaul notes, “School planners often assume that adequate parcel sizes can be found only on the fringes of the community. By researching property parcels to find more community-based options, districts can avoid making bussing a foregone conclusion and keep community based schools.”
Choosing the location for a school involves wide-ranging considerations and stakeholders from government officials, businesses, neighborhood leaders, parents and the students themselves. In recent years, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has convened a School Siting Summit with superintendents from all over the state. Their work spanned 2 years and resulted in a manual for partners and other online resources. In rapidly-urbanizing King County, Executive Dow Constantine created a School Siting Task Force that has been meeting since the New Year. Their mission is to develop recommendations to better align city, county and school districts’ planning for future school facilities. The goal of maximizing health objectives is listed first, followed by environmental, programmatic, fiscal and social objectives.
With these discussions underway in Kittitas County, Bedsaul is excited about the substantial gains she has seen with the backing of City Council members. The City of Ellensburg is continuing to revise land use codes that promote active community environments. They have enhanced connectivity and narrowed streets to improve the pedestrian experience. She has joined the city Planning Commission to advocate for active community environments in future decisions about locations for schools, businesses and community institutions.
Featured: March 2012
School children and community members
Sarah Bedsaul, Health Educator, Kittitas County Public Health Department, 509-962-7680