COLUMBIA CITY — With the completion of the new Columbia City High School just more than a year away, city officials are making plans to uphold their end of a deal with Whitley County Consolidated Schools.

WCCS is turning over the land at the current Columbia City High School to the city to be used as park space. In return, the city agreed to extend its trail system to the location of the new CCHS, which will also connect Indian Springs Middle School and Little Turtle Elementary School to the city.

Mark Hearld, of VS Engineering Inc., spoke at a recent city council meeting to discuss a preliminary engineering report he prepared.

The project could cost between $1.1 and $1.6 million, depending on several variables.

“There are several different options to get from point A to point B,” Hearld said. In general, the plan is to connect to the existing trail on South Line Street and travel south to Radio Road, over the Blue River via a bridge, and south along S.R. 9 to the new school complex.

Hearld also mentioned installing flashing lights for the trail’s crossing on south Line Street, since there is not a stop-controlled intersection. There are several options to choose from, but all seek to improve safety at the crosswalk.

The biggest expense in the trail is the bridge to cross over the Blue River. There are several options, from building on to the existing bridge, which is maintained by the Indiana Department of Transportation, or constructing a new bridge, which could vary from a simple, prefabricated bridge to a historic-looking bridge.

Mayor Ryan Daniel said he and Community Development Director Jeff Walker are working with grant writer Lori Shipman to help fund the project through the state’s Next Level Trails program. Next Level Trails is an 80/20 project, meaning the city would fund 20 percent of the project and the state would fund 80 percent, up to $2 million.

Northeast Indiana has a resolution signed by mayors and commissioners, stating that any trail in northeast Indiana is “regionally significant.” This is important, because more funding is available to regionally significant trails — $20 million compared to $5 million for local trails.

“$1.5 million for a trail is significant money,” Daniel said. “The last time we spent that much on trails was probably the Blue River Trail in the mid-90s.”

The project may be expensive, but important, he said.

“It’s important that we connect our trail system to the new high school property, which also connects the middle and elementary schools,” Daniel said.