With noses pressed to the schoolhouse window, pupils wore hard hats borrowed from the construction company and watched backhoes yank up weathered sidewalk and workers lay sub-layers for new concrete.
The West Side Trail project started in 2000 as a mission to promote community and wellness with a sidewalk and bike path network from West Pittston to Edwardsville. Project funding has been elusive during the past 13 years.
Grant writer and project organizer Karen Szwast said this construction phase is part of a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School grant. The grant requires sidewalk improvements to lead to school buildings to encourage walking instead of taking the bus or catching a ride with mom.
The safe-routes grant will pay for about two miles of walkway resurfacing, adding to the 1.5 miles of the West Side Trail completed in 2006.
Once completed, safe-routes sidewalks will lead from parks near Shoemaker Avenue down Eighth Street and over to the Tenth Street School. The route also will run the opposite way along Wyoming Avenue and branch off to reach Wyoming Area Secondary Center and JFK Elementary School via Erie Street.
So far, nine grants — totaling about $2.1 million — have been pumped into the West Side Trail project. For help, Szwast went to state Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, who she said was instrumental in winning the grant money.
The trail project won’t have all sidewalks on its route replaced, but Szwast said all will be in good condition and bear the West Side Trails stamp in the cement at each corner.
“The ones that are in good shape, we didn’t replace,” Szwast said. “We didn’t want to spend the money unwisely.”
Four municipalities — Wyoming, West Wyoming, Exeter and West Pittston — are working together to finish the project, which has no particular deadline. Each phase depends on grant money available, Szwast said.
The project has met strong community support, said Eileen Cipriani, West Wyoming Borough Council president. From a bird’s-eye view, organizers hope to see the community grow more neighborly, with taking a walk becoming easier and more enjoyable for residents near the trail, Cipriani said.
The Cookie Corner’s owner Donna Brenner echoed her sentiment.
“Besides being a physical improvement to the borough, it also provides the opportunity to promote exercise and fitness on all levels and encourages residents of local communities to interact with neighbors,” Brenner said.