By Matt Werner Times Sentinel Writer
Zionsville Times Sentinel
---- — A group of Zionsville West Middle School students were tired of not having a safe way to cross Whitestown Parkway so they could walk to school.
Wanting to see a change, Theresa Bottorff, Kelsey Merrill, Charlize Roe and Amelia Wilkie took matters into their own hands and are urging local officials to look into installing a crosswalk at Whitestown Parkway and CR 700 E.“It started as a project in our history class to become more active citizens in our state or town,” Bottorff said. “We didn’t expect it to get this far.”The students appeared before the Whitestown Town Council Tuesday night, Jan. 14, and were surprised when the council fully supported the idea and set aside $50,000 to show their support.“When they said they would support it, it was just like ‘Really?’” Bottorff said. “We never thought it’d get this far, but we were going to try.”The students made quite the case to the council, saying that 174 ZWMS students live in Royal Run and cannot walk to school, the Boys and Girls Club or other nearby business, such as McDonald’s.“It’s important to have a crosswalk because not everyone can get around in a vehicle,” Bottorff said. “We can’t just go everywhere like visit with our friends, pick up groceries for our parents, or things like that. Plus the more pathways and sidewalks we have, the fewer cars we have on the road.”What the students didn’t realize was that Whitestown officials were having internal discussions about ways to connect the businesses and developments on both sides of Whitestown Parkway.“There are some people that are in favor of having a bridge,” Whitestown Town Manager Dax Norton said. “We do have Whitestown residents in Maple Grove and the new apartments that would certainly like to have a way to walk to those businesses.”Norton said it seemed like a great idea to work with Zionsville in trying to put a pathway from Whitestown Parkway to ZWMS.
Zionsville Town Council President Jeff Papa said the students will be presenting to them during their February meeting, and they are open to help Whitestown with the project. This wouldn’t be the first time the two communities came together for a project at the intersection after Zionsville helped pay for a stoplight as part of the annexation agreement between the towns.“When I was on the Eagle Township Parks Board, we were trying to find some way to get pedestrians safely across,” he said. “Following the agreement after the annexation, there are a lot of opportunities for us to collaborate. If we can find a safe way to get people across the street, we should pursue it. That intersection is safe for cars, and now we should look at what we can do for pedestrians.”Norton said talks were preliminary, but a few pedestrian bridges he discussed during the meeting were a bridge at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and the B-Line Trail Bridge over Grimes in Bloomington. The bridges have a decorative component to them, and the council discussed possibly putting “Welcome to Whitestown” and “Welcome to Zionsville” signs on it, if the bridge is the project they want to pursue. Norton said a bridge could cost around $500,000, but there are grants available they could pursue.
The students have thoroughly enjoyed what started as a school project.“This is the best school project ever,” Merrill said.
Wilkie said, “It’s a really good feeling helping so many people.”ZWMS Principal Kris Devereaux said she has been impressed with the girls’ work, and it’s exciting to see them pursuing the project.“I am impressed with the teachers that came up with a project that was relevant — that was a real-world problem for these students to try to come up with a solution, research, ask questions and come up with a solution, and these girls are going to see the rewards of that,” Devereaux said. “(Having a crosswalk) will help with safety and give an accessibility to the people around the area to those businesses that they don’t have.”Devereaux said she thinks the biggest lesson the group is learning is being active in the community.“They are learning the life lesson of if you want something to change, guess what? Four girls just did,” she said. “That’s something they will carry with them the rest of their life, and it’s a project that is going to impact hundreds and thousands of people in the future.”