BRADENTON -- Everyone got a lesson in science, speech, and government when a bus load of students from Center Montessori School joined the grown-ups at a public hearing Monday considering a special permit for the Ancient Oak Gun Club.
The proposed facility would be located in a rural area about three-quarters of a mile south of State Road 64 East off Uihlein Road in Lakewood Ranch.
Hearing officer Lori Dorman listened to the attorneys, engineers and experts from gun club builder Schroeder-Manatee Ranch with the same attention she gave to the students who lined up to express their concerns about the range, planned 4,290 feet away from the school's nature campus.
"There's gonna be a lot more traffic and people with guns around. I've been around guns a lot, but it does have a negative affect on me, I know that for sure," said seventh grader Samantha Scholl.
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Another seventh grader, Emma Wilbur, said it was scary knowing that there are people with guns less than a mile away.
Her parent, Becky McDonough, said after the hearing that having a gun club in the area would disturb the peace and quiet of the nature lab.
"Some kids it may not bother at all and others it may, depending on what they have experienced. As a parent, I've always wanted the safest environment for her. Accidents happen and its too close for comfort for me," said McDonough, a mental health professional.
But representatives for SMR said that noise would be negligible.
SMR attorney Caleb Grimes said the gun club would be the equivalent of "14 football fields" away from the school's nature lab.
The outdoor firing range comes under the category of sporting play for trap and skeet shooting, "where you are shooting at clay targets with very fine shot often called gameshot or birdshot. You use shells with very small pellets in them. The shot goes a small distance and falls to the ground," Grimes said, adding that there are trees and other landscaping for protection.
SMR also introduced Byron Nelson, president of Southern Environmental Sciences, Inc., to the hearing.
Nelson field tested the range for sound in reference to the Montessori school property, Bayside Community Church and the nearest residential property. While county law allows for 60 decibels of sound, the highest volume made by 18 people shooting in the test at the range measured a maximum of 48.4 decibels at the school site, 45.4 at the church, and 47.9 at the residence.
Ann Day, a former Center Montessori parent and Florida licensed psychologist, expressed her opinion in an e-mail to the county that "the possibility that a faint sound of shotgun fire in the distance might traumatize students at the Montessori land lab facility seems improbable."
Her daughter attended the Montessori school from preschool through the 8th grade and used the land lab facility, she wrote.
"Having been so familiar with the school and seeing the way other issues were handled with students, I have been disappointed that the school has had an emotional, rather than educational reaction to the sporting clays facility," she wrote. "It would be far better to explain to the children that they might hear something and that it will not hurt them because caring adults have taken every precaution. Perhaps they might be shown video of the Olympics, especially of Kim Rhode who won her 5th gold medal in shooting last summer and won her first gold at age 17!"
Robin Edidin, middle school director of Center Montessori School, said she had no objection to the gun range in principle, but was concerned about the sound of constant gunfire.
"We're talking about 47 decibels of sharp, punctuated gunshots. It does carry. I was out east about a week ago and went to two different plant nurseries and someone was shooting. I could hear the constant pop in that area. If this range is open every day, there's going to be a constant peppering of gunshot. If you have one gun shooting and another shooting, that would add three decibels to the range. You're very quickly going to go over that range," Edidin said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Dorman said she would be making her ruling, but did not give a date.
"Everyone said their peace very nicely," said Robert Lombardo, president of Lombardo, Foley & Kolarik, Inc., consulting engineers, surveyors and planners, which represented SMR "I think the kids did very fine getting up there. I didn't necessarily agree with the kids, but that's how you like hearings to go."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7027, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH