Trailwood parents call for better walkability access as Overland Park approves new school design

Trailwood_ElementA group of area parents found themselves frustrated earlier this week as the Overland Park Planning Commission gave approval to designs for the new Trailwood School without heeding their calls for better walkability access.

A number of Trailwood parents had expressed concerns about the district’s design for the new building, which will be built on the site of the existing school this coming year, when they were unveiled over the summer. Of particular concern was the presence of the sidewalk providing access to the school directly abutting 95th Street.

The district had an open house to explain its design decisions and get feedback from patrons last month. But that meeting didn’t prompt changes to the plans that some of the parents had been hoping for.

Earlier this month, Trailwood mom Melissa Cheatham sent the Overland Park Planning Commission a series of comments imploring them to require better walkability for the new school plan before giving it the green light.

“Trends are changing when it comes to neighborhood design. Increasingly, homebuyers are looking for places that provide a reasonable choice of walking to local destinations for improved health and social interaction,” Cheatham wrote. “Places that provide this choice in a natural, pleasing way are likely to see increased resale value. This is why we were quite disappointed that the new Trailwood School design has ignored the desires of many people in the neighborhood to provide direct, reasonable opportunities for walking to the school or past the school to nearby retail or the upcoming Meadowbrook Park.”

Specifically, Cheatham asked that the commission to stipulate that the district move the sidewalk along 95th Street 10 to 12 feet from the curb. Similarly, she requested that the sidewalk along Rosewood be set back six to eight feet from the curb. Here’s a marked up version of a site plan she sent the commission:

Trailwood-MarkedUP

Cheatham’s concerns were echoed on Monday by Ray Stolhand, who addressed the planning commission at the public hearing. Stolhand said that since the construction of the new school represents a 50 or 60 year commitment, the district should have taken the time to get better buy in from the community and address the concerns about walkability and other issues.

“The plans being discussed for preliminary and final approval [Monday] are essentially the exact same plans as presented at the meetings beginning last winter and discussed at various open houses at the school and with individuals with no discernible changes from the patrons comments,” Stolhand said. “When the patrons were told originally that nothing was final and all comments would be considered now look like a lot of hot air…The school will be built and everyone will adjust to what it will be, but I think of what it could have been for this very visible site.”

The Overland Park Planning Commission on Monday approved the district’s plans for the new school without any further stipulations. The district can get a construction permit for the project in two weeks provided that owners of 20 percent of the adjacent land don’t mount a protest petition effort. Cheatham said she doesn’t anticipate there will be any organized effort to mount such a protest — but that the lack of walkable infrastructure was disheartening.

“I am disappointed that the district and planning staff didn’t take concerns about walkability more seriously,” she said. “Our families deserve safe and pleasant routes to walk to school. It’s best for the environment, our health and our community.”