Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Controversy resolved in Brookridge; students will continue using back gate

BROOKRIDGE — The back entrance at Brookridge will remain open after all.

After weeks of backlash and protests, the community's board of directors agreed Thursday to an offer that will allow the gate to remain open for the roughly 50 students who use it to get to and from school.

In about three weeks, the school district will install an electronic gate that students will be able to open with key cards each morning and afternoon.

"I'm very pleased what the school district has done for the kids in Brookridge," said Brookridge Community Property Owners board of directors president Ray Starr. "They've done a great job."

Security concerns were one of the primary reasons motivating the board's vote to shut the gate in the first place. That's no longer an issue, Starr said.

"Security is maintained," he said. "That's a very big concern among our residents. It always has been."

The controversy erupted in late September after the board governing Brookridge, a gated mobile home community on the north side of State Road 50 west of Brooksville, voted unanimously to close the gate.

Community officials attached a red and white sign to the chain-link fence reading: "Please be advised. The rear gate will no longer be open for school children."

The entrance is just across Ken Austin Parkway from Pine Grove Elementary, West Hernando Middle and Central High schools.

Shortly after the vote, parents and grandparents began picketing outside Brookridge, which many of its residents would like to convert into a 55-and-older community. The picketers waved signs and said students who can't get rides would have to travel several miles along dangerous roads with only sporadic sidewalks.

"I'm satisfied," said Gail Gill, a 60-year-old Brookridge resident with a grandson who uses the gate. "It's a joke that it had to come to this — all this work, all this nonsense."

Mother and fellow protester Jenny Paesch agreed.

"It's going to save me time, effort, gas money — all of it," she said. "I'm glad that the children will be able to go to school safely. No child's life will be at risk."

Paesch, along with another resident, had filed a motion for a temporary injunction on Sept. 28 to try and keep the gate open. On that same day, the board announced it would move the gate closure back two weeks from the original Oct. 1 date.

So how will the new system work? It's a little complicated.

The back entrance, which is also an evacuation route, is actually made up of two separate fences with gates — one owned by the county and the other by Brookridge.

The new electronic gate will be installed on the county fence, said Barry Crowley, manager of safety and security for Hernando schools.

The electronic gate is being installed with the understanding that Brookridge will continue to open and close its gate in the mornings and evenings when kids need to go to school, said Hernando schools superintendent Bryan Blavatt.

"I think this is the best things for those kids over there," Blavatt said.

The gate, which the district already had in surplus, will be installed at a relatively low cost, he said. Crowley said it would likely be less than $500.

To open it, each student will be given a swipe card, which will be essentially identical to the ID cards they already carry.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.

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