ODESSA — The concerns first arose when Odessa Elementary School was little more than a concrete slab, still called Elementary S by Pasco County officials who had yet to name it.
Parents living to the east of the campus heard rumors their children might be sent to the school when it opened. And they worried about losing their "safe, non-SR 54" daily trip to school. Emphasis on "safe."
The public hand-wringing dissipated as the school rose from the ground and the focus turned to creating a parent-teacher group, student programs and the like.
All the while, superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff worked to get a traffic signal placed at Community Drive and State Road 54, knowing that once classes began, the nightmare of turning across four lanes of unregulated traffic to get to the school could create chaos.
The county agreed to extend turn lanes at the intersection. The Sheriff's Office offered to put signs out alerting drivers to the new school for the first three weeks of classes, and also to put a deputy and cruiser at the site for the first week.
But no light is coming.
The Department of Transportation ruled that the location did not have enough traffic to warrant it. Not even the arm-twisting of state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who chairs the Senate transportation appropriations committee, could gain the project any traction.
Fiorentino is considering an appeal to the governor, who appoints the transportation secretary. But even in the best-case scenario, a traffic signal wouldn't get placed at the intersection for close to a year.
So Odessa principal Teresa Love wants to get word out to parents that having their kids ride the bus is perhaps the safest solution to the problem. That would put fewer, sturdier vehicles in the turn lanes each morning.
Convincing parents might not be an easy task, Love acknowledged. After all, many of the families were accustomed to walking, riding bicycles or driving to the schools they attended last year.
"Oakstead has a lot of walkers and car riders," she said. "They naturally want to drive their kids. But we're not in that type of neighborhood."
In fact, Odessa has just one subdivision within walking distance. The vast majority of the school's nearly 600 registered students qualify for busing.
"It's just constantly reinforcing the importance of putting the kids on the bus," Love said. "We're going to encourage as many people as we possibly can encourage."
She recognized that many parents will want to take their children to class on the first day of school, perhaps even the first few days. But after the first week, Love said, it's important to start the routine of getting students to their classrooms independently.
That's a good time to get in the habit of taking the bus, she suggested.
For those who prefer to drive regardless, Love said they should give themselves plenty of time to get to and through the intersection. Even leaving the campus will require extra caution, she noted, as traffic will be moving past quickly without a light.
She also noted that car drivers might want to consider arriving a bit later for pickup than when the bell rings, as not everyone can get their children at the same time.
Odessa Elementary classes will start at 9:40 a.m. and end at 3:50 p.m.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.