Feb. 23, 2005 - For the second consecutive year, the town will help to support a safe graduation night for the community's young people.

At its Feb. 16 meeting, the town council pledged $10,000, to be split evenly between Canyon del Oro and Ironwood Ridge high schools, for Project Graduation.

Project Graduation in Oro Valley is the brainchild of two local parents who came together about two year's ago because they were both concerned about the dangers facing the community's students.

An Aug. 5, 2003 rollover involving alcohol killed three young people and injured four others; two of the dead and three of the injured were students at Ironwood Ridge and CDO high schools.

Affected by this tragedy and knowing that graduation night has been shown in various statistics gathered by law enforcement to be one of the most dangerous nights of the year, the two parents decided to give students an alternative to the traditional party-hopping celebrations held in many communities.

Mary Snider had moved from Sonoma County, California, where she had chaired event held on graduation night to keep kids out of harm's way. She wanted to organize a similar event at IRHS, and when word of her endeavor reached CDO, parent B.J. Meyer got on board.

The two began fund raising, and soon recruited Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp to help with the event.

Modeled after similar events held across the nation, the parties are held on the evening of each school's graduation ceremonies, and provide all night activities at the school, absent the use of alcohol or drugs. The program was developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation more than 20 years ago.

Several former students, who took part in last year's event, spoke at the council meeting about the evening of music, dancing, food, games and prizes, saying Project Graduation was a special time to say good-bye to friends in a safe and fun atmosphere. Both parents and students thanked the council for helping to make the event happen.

Between the two schools, there was an 80 percent attendance rate at the parties last year, and the organizing duo hope to see that number increase this year. Attendance was the highest at IRHS, where organizers said they were able to start a "new tradition" among students, because it was the new school's first graduating class.

Meyer and Snider said more than 300 parents at each school volunteered countless hours over a two-year period to help get the event off the ground.

The audience at the meeting was filled with parents and students who applauded the council's decision to financially support the event. Several council members also volunteered to work on the days of the festivities.

Councilmember Kenneth "K.C." Carter encouraged those in attendance, and the council members, to help out not only through donations, but also through a pledge of assistance in building sets, setting up and running various activities at the schools.

The contribution from the town will help the event organizers place deposits with various vendors, who will provide entertainment for the evening. Sponsors, fund raisers, donations and ticket sales provide the funding needed to put on the event.

To purchase tickets, make donations or volunteer for either school, contact Project Graduation, P.O. Box 36593, Tucson, AZ 85740-6593 or call 696-5578.

In other business, the council adopted an ordinance that prohibits motorized vehicles on the town's shared-use paths, except in several areas where it is making allowances for golf carts.

The town's shared use paths on Lambert Lane, Naranja Drive and Tangerine Roads are currently used for pedestrians, joggers, in-line skaters and bicyclists. However, both the police department and public works department have requested that golf carts be allowed to use a portion of those paths to safely cross the busy roads, where driving the carts is illegal.

Specifically, Town Engineer Bill Jansen said the ordinance will allow residents living north of Tangerine Road to use the path, which passes under the road, in order to get to the golf course to the south.

"The object is to be able to get from one 25 mile per hour street to another 25 mile per hour street, where it is legal to operate the carts," said Jansen.

Motorized scooters are still prohibited from being used on the path, however.

Vice Mayor Paula Abbott asked that the ordinance be continued because she wanted more information about the use of the paths and why motorized scooters would not be allowed, if other motorized vehicles were being given exception. She was outnumbered, however, 4-2, with Carter voting against the ordinance as well, and Councilmember Terry Parish absent.

The council also authorized the initiation of the possible annexation of the La Cholla Airpark.

The airpark consists of 960 acres, north and west of the existing town limits, near the Moore Road and Kingair Drive intersection, and is currently unincorporated land. It is a private airpark, which features homes lining the runway, and airplane hangers on the lots.

According to Special Projects Coordinator Scott Nelson, the initiation was requested from the airpark's board of directors.

Once the town files an annexation map with the Pima County Recorder's Office, there will be a 30-day waiting period and then a public hearing will be scheduled. The town will then have one year to collect signatures of more than one half of the area's property owners to complete the annexation.

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