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Safety Town renovates, hopes to buy handicap kart

September 7, 2018
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Retired Huntington Police Department Officer Vernon Casey teaches Davis Creek Elementary School students about pedestrian and driving safety Thursday at Safety Town in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Safety Town, Huntington’s miniature municipality, has taught generations of second-graders about roadway safety since it was created in 1974.

However, students with disabilities have been excluded from the town’s most entertaining aspect: driving the go-karts around a track built to resemble roadways, complete with traffic signals and stop signs.

Beau Evans, Region 2 coordinator for the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said he’s been working to change that since Safety Town fell partly under his control this summer. Evans will begin fundraising to purchase a special go-kart specifically for children in wheelchairs.

The handicapped-accessible go-kart would be bigger than a standard one and feature a manual off switch, Evans said. A typical Safety Town vehicle costs about $1,700, while a handicapped-accessible one would cost about $12,000.

Typically children in wheelchairs have to stay behind at school during the class trip to Safety Town or skip the driving portion, Evans said.

Safety Town recently opened for the season last week, allowing second-grade classes from Cabell and Wayne counties a chance to hear more about roadway safety and try out what they’ve learned.

About $20,000 went into renovating Safety Town to open it for this season, Evans said. In the classroom, workers gave walls a new coat of paint, installed new carpet, new tile and fixed up the restrooms.

They also put in new desks, new whiteboards and a flat-screen TV, among other improvements.

On Thursday, about a dozen students from Terri Crowder’s second-grade class at Davis Creek Elementary School visited the town.

Evans said part of Safety Town’s revamping came with an updated curriculum featuring a drug and alcohol prevention component. The update was overdue because Safety Town was still playing VHS tapes used from when Evans visited in second grade.

Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city of Huntington, said some of Safety Town’s renovations were made possible with gardening by Kotalic Landscaping and volunteer work from city employees and members of Recovery Point of Huntington.

Evans said it costs about $20,000 annually to maintain Safety Town and fund its sole director and instructor, Vernon Casey. That means the city has already exceeded the yearly cost to run Safety Town in renovations alone.

He intends to start a round of fundraising and to seek corporate sponsors that would offset some of those costs. Money would also go toward purchasing a go-kart for disabled students.

Corporate donors earn the right to name either the main classroom building or several small buildings inside the track. The city’s police and fire departments maintain buildings inside the town.

Anyone wanting to make a monetary donation may make checks out to the City of Huntington Foundation at P.O. Box 1659, Huntington, WV 25717-1659. Donors are asked to write “Safety Town” on the memo line.

Anyone wanting to volunteer at Safety Town during non-instructional hours may email their name and phone number to safetytown@cityofhuntington.com.

Chambers said the city recently started a Facebook page for Safety Town so people can share stories and pictures from the town’s 44-year history. Safety Town is at 1450 Memorial Blvd. in Huntington.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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