After hitting a financial road block earlier this year, the Umatilla School District had to rethink its plans for revamping the bus drop-off area at McNary Heights Elementary School. The district has now nailed down a cost-effective solution that comes out under budget.

The district originally received approximately $391,000 as part of a “Safe Routes to School” grant to improve the pathways and reroute the bus stop at McNary Heights to create a barrier between students and parking lot traffic. However, cost estimates have gone up over the last couple of years and at current rates, their rerouting plan would cost more than $500,000.

The city of Umatilla and the school district, co-applicants for the grant, had to go back and revise their plan to fit the budget. They then had to resubmit their plans to the granting authority for approval to ensure that the district’s main priority is improving the pathway and bicycle safety for students.

City Manager Bob Ward announced during the last city council meeting they were able to come up with a simplified design with the current bus drop-off area being narrowed considerably so that only a bus will be able to reach the sidewalk in front of the school. No other vehicles will be allowed in the bus zone.

“People will drop their kids off on Columbia Street,” he said. “Those kids will be funneling to the crosswalk. There will also be crossing guards there. This eliminates that whole new road that we were going to build through the school grounds ...”

He said the same parking spaces in front of the school will remain, though the front spaces nearest the school usually fill up by the time the buses get there. Because the newly narrowed bus drop off area will leave no room for other cars to drive into the space, there will be less chance of danger.

The city of Umatilla voted during its August meeting to match the school district up to $30,000 in additional funds for the project. Since the project is expected under budget, it will use the extra funds for lighting improvements for the bike path leading down past Clara Brownell Middle School, Ward said.

Construction on the project is expected to start this summer.

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