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Sidewalk agreement with school district leaves major project for city to complete

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In the early morning hours it is difficult for motorists to see pedestrians walking along the east side of North 16th Street, whereas pedestrians on the west side of the street are much safer due to sidewalks that were completed by the Sunnyside School District when Sierra Vista Middle and Sun Valley Elementary schools were built. Crossing the street at Beckner Alley and North 16th Street are (L-R) Jose and Cesar Hernandez. Walking on the unfinished side of the street is Zaira Farias.

Former Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell and City Attorney Mark Kunkler in 2005 entered into an agreement with the Sunnyside School District to complete sidewalks along North 16th Street.

Part of the agreement detailed that the city would construct sidewalks from the intersection of Sheller Road on the east side of North 16th Street within three years of completion of the schools constructed on North 16th Street.

The school district agreed to extend sidewalks on the west side of North 16th Street to Beckner Alley, approximately 550-linear feet.

The construction of Sierra Vista Middle School was completed in 2006, and Sun Valley Elementary School was completed in 2008.

There are plans to eventually construct a third school on North 16th Street, according to Dr. Rick Cole, superintendent of Sunnyside Schools.

He said he has brought the issue of incompleted sidewalks to the attention of current Interim City Manager Frank Sweet because there have been recent inquiries about the agreement.

"A commitment has been made," said Cole.

Shane Fisher is the city of Sunnyside's superintendent of public works.

He said he doesn't know all the details of why the agreement was written as it was. However, the city, he believes, has waited to complete the project because it was waiting until the new Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church was built.

"We didn't want damage to new sidewalks," he said, stating he can only speculate because those who served in an official capacity when the agreement was signed did not share the information with him.

Fisher said there have also been financial concerns because the project is expected to cost approximately $100,000 and the city did not have the money in the streets budget.

"I have no idea how the agreement worked and where the money from the school district went," he said, when asked about $25,000 the school district contributed to the city's funds for traffic signals to be installed at the intersection of Sheller Road/North Avenue and North 16th Street.

The school district, in the 2005 document signed by Stockwell, Kunkler, Cole and the school district's attorney, agreed to pay the money for a traffic signal. That part of the agreement outlines the acknowledgment that school traffic would increase, and "...with reasonable expectation, require design and construction of electronic automatic traffic control signals or other appropriate traffic control devices or methods."

Fisher said the installation of traffic control signals could cost an estimated $400,000. He said the city doesn't currently have that funding and is seeking to improve the intersection at Yakima Valley Highway and 16th Street before seeking to find the funding for the intersection at Sheller Road/North Avenue and North 16th Street.

"That intersection was redesigned," he noted, stating it is currently a four-way stop with turn lanes.

As for complying with the agreement, Fisher said the city is working toward that goal. He said plans have been made to install sidewalks along the east side of North 16th Street once the church construction is complete.

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