New middle school to address overcrowding, but not hurricane shelters

The plan for a new east county middle school, in red, is set to be adjacent to B.D. Gullett Elementary School.
The plan for a new east county middle school, in red, is set to be adjacent to B.D. Gullett Elementary School.

Overcrowded middle schools in East Manatee County may get some relief after commissioners approved a site plan for a new one.

According to School District of Manatee County planner Mike Pendley, when schools reach 105 percent capacity, it triggers the need for a new school. The three surrounding middle schools in this east county service area — Braden River, Nolan and Haile — are 105 percent, 126 percent and 135 percent over capacity, respectively.

This new middle school, designed based on a Pinellas County school, will have a capacity for 1,048 students and be directly adjacent to B.D. Gullett Elementary on 44th Avenue East.

Pendley addressed the “elephant in the room:” hurricane shelters. While the new middle school would be built to withstand strong winds, as per current Florida building codes, it would not be constructed as an EHPA, or enhanced hurricane protection area. EHPA shelters require more things that simply retrofitting a building after it’s constructed can’t do, including different roofs, wind load designs, stronger windows, doors and a shelter manager’s office, Pendley said, but would add between 7 percent and 9 percent additional costs.

The school board planner also added that certain sites that are EHPA weren’t used during Hurricane Irma, including Manatee Technical College’s health occupations and law enforcement buildings, which can each hold 400 people, and R. Dan Nolan Middle School, which can hold 570 people. Yet Nolan Middle was used as a special needs shelter in September.

Whether a school becomes an EHPA shelter is up to the school board, getting their directive from the Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan, a report on shelter excess and deficits released every other year. The 2016 report states that the region that Manatee County is part of has more than enough shelters for the projected population in 2021, but is lacking special needs shelters. Officials are confident that when the new report is released at the end of January, it will show that the Tampa Bay area will be lacking in shelter spaces as a whole.

The need for shelters also was seen when more than 25,000 people filled up 70 percent of the county’s shelter space before Hurricane Irma, even though a mandatory evacuation order was in place only for those who lived in Zone A.

The board of county commissioners and school board members are still planning to have a work session to discuss the future of the county’s hurricane shelters.

But Pendley said that the school board has promised that the new east county elementary school will be built with EHPA standards. The new Parrish high school, like the middle school, will not have these standards.

Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who represents the Lakewood Ranch area, said that while these standards were better than most schools, her district was rapidly growing.

“This will be and is the center of Manatee County,” she said.

Commissioners approved the plan by a vote of 6-0 during Thursday’s land use meeting, with Commissioner Charles Smith absent.

In other business, commissioners:

▪ Heard concerns about how a 40-by-60-by-20-foot steel garage in Palmetto Point was approved in a residential area by the county, and agreed to have staff update them on what happened.

▪ Approved by a vote of 6-0 a rezone of one acre in Parrish from general agriculture to suburban agriculture.

▪ Approved by a vote of 6-0 a general development plan to change stipulations of Harris Professional Center. The major concern was if a restaurant would be allowed in the business park, but the zoning does not allow for a drive-thru. The attorney for the applicant said if there were to be a restaurant, it would be “complementary in an office setting.”

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse