It was business as usual in Manatee County commission chambers Thursday as Hurricane Irma tracks toward South Florida, but the storm made its way into a decision made about the new North River High School.
Despite a 3-3 vote on the new Parrish school’s site plan, it was going to move forward with or without the vote; the difference was if it would be approved with or without proposed stipulations. The project site is a 95.62-acre plot of land on the corner of Martha Road and Erie Road that will include up to nine buildings, a football field, a greenhouse and 626 proposed parking spaces.
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The commission’s split vote was driven by the school board’s decision not to harden the new school as an emergency shelter. According to attorney Patricia Petruff, the school district wasn’t required to qualify the school as a shelter, and it would cost an additional $8 million to $10 million to do so. Petruff noted that nearby Virgil Mills Elementary and Buffalo Creek Middle are hardened schools.
Initially, Commissioner Charles Smith was adamant about the project moving forward because “it’s a much needed school,” as there are no high schools to directly serve the northeastern portion of the county. But after questioning whether it would be hurricane-proof, he changed his mind.
Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Robin DiSabatino and Smith voted against the site plan because it would not be an option for those evacuating from a hurricane. Commissioners Steve Jonsson, Priscilla Trace and Carol Whitmore voted in favor. Chairwoman Betsy Benac was not present for the meeting.
“I can’t support a school in north county without it being a shelter,” Baugh said.
According to an email sent to school district staff by Manatee Emergency Management Chief Sherilyn Burris on Aug. 11, she advised that the proposed elementary, middle and high schools in north and eastern Manatee County should be designed as shelters. As of 2016, the county has surpassed a statewide population projection for 2021 by nearly 17,000 people, Burris wrote.
“Without new shelters, the number of available shelter spaces will remain at a deficit,” Burris wrote in the email, adding Manatee residents would have to “cross surge vulnerable causeways” for shelters in counties to the north.
Newly appointed school board member Scott Hopes spoke during the meeting, hoping to ease commissioners’ concerns, with the suggestion that emergency needs in that part of the county be reviewed and that the new elementary school planned on Moccasin Wallow Road could be designed as an emergency shelter.
Other concerns were related to traffic during drop-off and pick-up and improving roads before the school is built.
“If everybody followed directions, we’d have a wonderful plan,” Trace said.
There’s a proposed one-mile car loop, but Trace wasn’t convinced that parents would be willing to wait in that line twice a day.
“They’re going to be kicking kids (out of their cars) all over the place,” she said.
Also on Thursday, the commission:
- Passed an amendment to the land development code to allow for medical marijuana treatment center dispensing facilities. Commissioner Smith abstained from the vote.
- Unanimously passed an amendment to the land development code to add definitions for boatels, defined as “any establishment consisting of a single building or portion thereof, or a group of buildings that are accessible by water and used for transient lodging purposes. Such establishments shall also provide for boat hauling or launching facilities, rental of covered or uncovered boat slips, dock space, or dry storage space.”
- Unanimously passed a resolution that would allow the county to transfer unused county-owned property to Community Solutions 360, Inc. for affordable housing.
- Unanimously passed a transmittal of an ordinance for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to allow for flexibility in the Future Land Use Designation in order to achieve their goal of increasing employment in Lakewood Ranch.
- Unanimously passed an ordinance to update the Water Supply Facilities Work Plan.