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Bayonet Point resident fights to put safety lights at schools

Tom Washburn has been fighting for a year to get caution lights installed near two schools.

Tom Washburn has been fighting for a year to get caution lights installed near two schools.

BAYONET POINT — Tom Washburn is waiting patiently, but not quietly, for flashing yellow lights that would slow traffic outside Schrader Elementary and Bayonet Point Middle schools.

"It looks to me that if you squeak the loudest, that's how you get something done," Washburn said Thursday. "So that's what I am going to do."

He has been at it more than a year. It was February 2007 when Washburn first began pushing for added safety features outside the schools, which sit on Little Road at Star Trail. Just days earlier, a speeding dump truck had plowed into a few cars and then veered toward a sidewalk where some children were getting ready to cross the street to school.

At first, Washburn got a good response.

Sheriff's deputies came out to slow traffic, writing tickets and offering their presence. County and School District officials put plans in the works to place some warning beacons outside the school. They were, in fact, supposed to be there by now.

"Everybody has been so nice to me since the time of the accident," Washburn said. "All along this has been a very friendly environment."

Just one problem: Nothing got done.

Washburn is not the only one with concerns.

"Mr. Washburn is correct," assistant school superintendent Ray Gadd said. "There are supposed to be flashers out there and, apparently, they are here. The county hasn't gotten them in (the ground) yet."

Gadd said his department has offered to help the county install the lights. But the county has not taken up the offer.

"I understand his frustration," Gadd said of Washburn. "I applaud him for his efforts."

Those efforts include a new round of letters to school, county and state officials seeking action. Washburn explained that he waited patiently for budget cycles to run through and designs to get drawn. But kids are in harm's way, he said, and something needs to be done now, and not after the school year ends.

Robert Reck, traffic operations manager for the county, was not available for comment Thursday.

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who got one of Washburn's letters, responded earlier this week by writing that the flashers are scheduled to be installed.

"However," she wrote, "there are several schools (also with similar problems) that are scheduled to receive flashers before Schrader Elementary School. Mr. Reck advises that he and his staff are working as quickly as possible to install the flashers at all of the schools on their list."

That response gave pause to John Boucher, the School District's manager of facility operations and safety.

Boucher noted that the county has 14 schools on a list to receive flashing lights, and the materials have been in hand for months, paid for by a 2006 federal grant.

"They are telling me that because of their cuts and loss in personnel ... they are behind schedule," Boucher said. "It's just taking too long."

And if those 14 projects can't get done, both Boucher and Washburn wondered how soon will it be for Schrader, which according to Hildebrand's letter appears to come afterward. Washburn said he plans to see the project through, hopefully sooner rather than later.

"I tend to believe they're going to move it up because they're getting sick of me," he said. "I'm not giving up."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

>>fast facts

Flashing safety lights

Schrader Elementary is just one school that's in line to receive additional warning signals to help slow traffic. Here are the others on the list:

Elementary schools: Centennial, Cox, Cypress, Gulf Highlands, Gulfside, Oakstead, Pasco, Quail Hollow, Sanders, Trinity and Wesley Chapel

Middle schools: Centennial, Pasco and Weightman

Bayonet Point resident fights to put safety lights at schools 03/20/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 21, 2008 2:35pm]
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