Located in National City, Kimball Elementary's “Walk to School Day” on August 14, 2014 was no ordinary day walking to school. The event was a culmination of a series of efforts focused on improving the walkability around Kimball Elementary. The walk from Big B’s Market to Kimball Elementary is only two blocks, but it’s taken three years of dedicated time, work and support from the community, city, school and County to improve the area.
It started in 2011, when National City Resident Leadership Academy (RLA) participants selected walkability improvements around Kimball Elementary as one of their community improvement projects (CIPs). They presented their plans to the city council and planner, friends and families, and other residents during their graduation ceremony. The city asked to meet with the residents to discuss the RLA community improvement plans and how they aligned to the city’s vision. During the RLA graduate and city meeting, the city presented their future plans to improve the sidewalks and bike lanes around Kimball Elementary. The city planner and engineer listened to RLA graduates’ input and incorporated it into their plan.
Unfortunately, shortly after the meeting, the State of California dissolved city redevelopment agencies along with their funds which were allocated to city improvements. The City was forced to put Kimball walkability project on hold. In 2012, through the Communities of Excellence (CX3) Project, residents again expressed the need to improve walkability around Kimball Elementary. A resident and former project coordinator of the CX3 project presented before City council, bringing Kimball walkability to the forefront of improvements needed in the city. The City applied to different funding sources to obtain the necessary infrastructure dollars to implement the project. The $1.8 million project was funded through a $730,000 Federal Safe Routes to School Grant, portions of a $2 million SANDAG Smart Growth Incentive Program Grant, and local TransNet and Gas Tax funds. The City began construction during the school’s winter break in December 2013 and completed the project in the summer 2014, just in time for the beginning of the school year.
On "Walk to School Day" this month, over 400 parents and students crowded the front of Big B’s market. Rady Children’s Hospital Safe Routes welcomed the parents and children to the event. There were two activity stations for the parents and children to be physically active. Miss National City lead yoga and there was a 5-2-1-0 campaign hopscotch freshly painted on the ground. The University of California, San Diego Center for Community Health provided taste test samples of the Harvest of the Month. The pears and bells peppers adorned the newly installed fruit stand prominently placed in front of the store. The CX3 Coordinators provided spa water with essence of cucumber and mint at the Rethink Your Drink display table.
Shortly before the school bell rang, National City Mayor Ron Morrison, Vice Mayor Luis Natividad, and Councilmembers Alejandra Sotelo-Solis, Mona Rios and Jerry Cano joined hundreds of children and parents on a walk to school from Big B’s Market to Kimball Elementary. The walk was followed by an assembly in which Kimball Elementary Principal Sonia Ruan welcomed and thanked the city for building safer routes for Kimball students to get to school. Steve Manganiello, National City Director of Public Works and City Engineer, described the project from getting the funding to landing on the right design.
The walkability project spans eight blocks. The improvements include wider sidewalks, bulb outs for traffic calming and shorter pedestrian crossing distances including ramps that meet the ADA standards. The biggest changes can be seen at Kimball Elementary. The school zone is clearly marked with bright signage, striped raised crosswalk, new lighting and landscaping. The school has a new plaza area with benches and bike rack. These improvements encourage children to walk and bike to school.
Maria Villanueva, resident of Old Town National City, expressed her gratitude to the City for listening to the residents’ concerns and implementing solutions they had suggested. Alma Sarmiento, National School District Board President, remarked on the partnership between the City, the District and the residents. When they all come together, great things can be accomplished.
Finally, Mayor Morrison had the opportunity to address the assembly. He thanked the audience for their input and their commitment to their community. He attributed all the improvements to the hard work of all the residents coming together in one of the oldest communities in San Diego County.
The event came to a close when Mayor Morrison and the councilmembers took up a pair of huge scissors and cut the red ribbon, inaugurating the Safe Routes to Kimball Elementary.