Sarasota County

School board approves temporary closure of School Ave. in Sarasota

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) - School Avenue has been a safety concern since the mass school shooting in Parkland.

The public road cuts right through the middle of Sarasota High School. The path is closed to vehicles between 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., but it's always open to pedestrians and bicyclists, posing a security risk.

This week, the Sarasota County School Board approved a new measure to close the roadway entirely during school hours.

Under the proposal, the road would be closed between Hatton Street and Tamisola Street from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting in the fall. Pedestrians and bikers would not be allowed to come through. 

The road would reopen after 10 p.m., and it would be open during the weekends.

The proposal is the first step toward the School District’s ultimate goal to close the entire stretch of School Avenue.

“Every day we’re leaving our campus vulnerable in ways that we just owe it to our kids to make sure that we take care of them,” said Sarasota County School District Director of Planning Kathie Ebaugh.

Ebaugh explained the school district is spending $25 million to better secure every campus in the county. The only campus that is really challenging is Sarasota High School.

“The one campus that we can’t secure without the help of another jurisdiction is this,” said Ebaugh.

A number of nearby residents have expressed concerns about the road closure. School Avenue serves as an important thoroughfare for residents who are heading to work or shopping.

Mary Anne Bowie, an urban planner and the president of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association. said the area is laid out like a grid curb traffic congestion and allow easy travel across the city.

“We have this grid system and every time we break and close another street on the grid, we have traffic overflow," said Bowie.

Bowie said the street's closure may lead to traffic issues. Not only could this impede emergency vehicles, but it could also lead to more accidents, Bowie claimed. 

“Its unintended consequences I’m sure. Because when you have more traffic, you’re gonna have more accidents and that means more people are going to be hurt," Bowie said.

“If they want to close it during school hours and give us a different way to walk and bike, then that would be fine with me but when you’re talking about closing it for the whole neighborhood all the time, that just doesn’t seem appropriate," Bowie added. “I think some management of where students can be after school hours is appropriate, I don’t think the entire city should suffer because 5 or 6 students want to stay around on campus until ten o clock at night.” 

“We ask the community to put themselves in our kids’ shoes. The kids today live in a very different world than when we grew up. We didn’t think about things the way we think about them today, we didn’t have the same fears,” said Ebaugh.

The measure, which still needs to be approved by the city council, is expected to be discussed at the Sarasota City Council meeting on Monday at 2 pm. 

The school district and the city commission plan to hold a series of public meetings on the issue over the next few months. Ebaugh is hopeful a final decision can be made later this year.

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